Refresh and Refocus: VineWorks 2023
BY MALCOLM TRIGGS
It’s just one year since the UK’s leading vineyard services company relaunched itself at the 2022 Vineyard & Winery Show, but in those 12 months VineWorks has surpassed far more than many companies achieve over a much longer timescale.
A new logo was just the most visible part of an overall refresh and refocus for VineWorks, established in 2006 by James Dodson while he was still studying for his BSc (Hons) in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College.
A year on, VineWorks has increased its management team by 40 per cent, created a new range of bespoke viticulture packages, enjoyed one of its most prolific planting seasons ever, brokered homes for £1.4 million worth of fruit and established a commerce-focused website that offers clients a convenient way to buy a vast range of vineyard products.
“The branding was just the start,” said James. “Yes, we wanted a fresh new look that would remind people that we aren’t just one of the longest-standing vineyard services companies in the UK but are also very much looking to the future, but our relaunch went well beyond the logo."
“It kick-started a tremendous year for VineWorks and one which really has highlighted the skills our team can offer and the way in which we can support growers of all kinds, from those who are just starting out and need some advice through to major players in the industry.”
One of those major players has now asked VineWorks to take a leading role in an exciting new development that highlights the growing importance of viticulture in the UK. Jackson Family Wines, which owns more than 40 top name wine brands worldwide, has announced plans to establish a vineyard in Essex's renowned Crouch Valley and increase its vineyard holdings in southern England.
Winemaker Charlie Holland, formerly with Gusbourne, is heading up the project and James has been chosen as the lead viticulturist in a move that reflects the depth of knowledge he has amassed in every aspect of growing quality grapes.
“This is a really significant step for the UK wine industry,” James commented. “Jackson Family Wines is looking to make not just sparkling wine but a high quality still wine from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown here.”
Under James’ leadership, VineWorks, based in Plumpton Green, East Sussex, has grown from a small company specialising in installing trellising systems into the UK’s leading vineyard services company, having established more than 300 vineyards and planted more than 4.5 million vines.
While still at the helm, James has restructured and strengthened the team over the past 12 months, recruiting Chris Buckley as business director, along with two business support officers, a viticulturist and a vineyard establishment consultant. There are plans to recruit more staff in the coming months.
The new website, which launched in June, was designed to enhance VineWorks’s online retail arm. It was "a colossal job” but has given customers online access to the vast range of anchors, posts, trellising materials, wire, guards, secateurs and other equipment that VineWorks stocks.
Last year’s refocus involved launching a new range of management packages tailored to the individual needs of clients. These include Management Pro, under which VineWorks essentially looks after the total operation, Viti Scout, which sees a member of the team visiting the vineyard several times in a season, feeding back on vine and crop health and providing a list of suggested actions, and Viti Coaching, which involves fewer visits and is popular with clients who are more experienced but welcome the occasional timely piece of guidance.
The packages have proved so popular that VineWorks will be looking to recruit a new head of viticulture services to oversee this team in the new year.
VineWorks has enjoyed one of its biggest planting seasons ever, with two planting machines kept busy throughout, while this year’s bumper crop has seen its brokering arm working hard to find homes for a record 545 tonnes of fruit worth £1.4 million.
“Tank space is set to be a problem if harvests continue to grow,” James commented. “There is no problem finding a home for UK grapes, but it can be difficult to find somewhere to put them.”
To round off an impressively busy year for the business, VineWorks won the silver medal in the Contractor of the Year category at the British Farming Awards. It now has its fingers crossed for the Sussex Business Awards in Brighton on 30 November, having been shortlisted in the Medium Business of the Year category.
“It’s been a great year all round, and to be recognised at both regional and national events has been the icing on the cake,” commented James.
Photo credit: Daria Szotek, 2023