VINEYARD MANAGER, ALBURY VINEYARDS, SURREY WINES OF GREAT BRITAIN
Planted in 2009, Albury is a family owned biodynamic and organic certified vineyard in the heart of Surrey, England covering 12 acre of vineyards, planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc, Pinot Gris and producing roughly 20,000 bottles a year. Nick Wenman is the owner of Albury and his passion for pursuing quality has led him into this stimulating, busy yet fulfilling project that he took up, after retiring from IT industry since 2006.
Having won a number of awards for their wines, within just a few years of vintage releases – including Classic Cuvè, Blanc de Blanc, Sparkling Rosé, Silent Pool still rosé which was served on the Royal Barge for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the latest Surrey Mead under the Albury range, they are not resting on their laurels. In 2018, Albury acquired another 10 acres in Landsdowne vineyard in the nearby Shere village which is about 2 miles away, that has been planted with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. At the moment the grapes are sold to another vineyard but Albury is already working out a strategy to convert this vineyard, over the next few years into organic.
ALEX VALSECHHI at Albury Vineyards working with her beloved dog in her pouch (Image: Albury)
Alex Valsecchi has been the vineyard manager for Albury from the outset. She is Italian by origin but has been living and working in the UK for over 20 years now. Her enthusiasm and efforts in converting and maintaining the organic and biodynamic philosophy for Albury cannot be undermined. Her role has been key in differentiating Albury into carving a niche in the English sparkling wine industry. She works non-stop, tending the vines, grapes, the soil while maintaining a dynamic interaction between the meso-climate around the vine system. She is also equally fluent in translating her vineyard works into a logical and articulate way, that gains her huge respect in viticulture. With the recent acquisition of their nearby parcels, Albury has hired the services of an able assistant vineyard manager, Dominic Travers, who will be working alongside her to assess the potential of converting their new sites into organic. I met with Alex Dominc, Nick and her two friendly dogs, Attila and Ulisse who are an essential part of Albury (and who have kindly lent their name, ‘Attila’s bite’ to Albury’s eau de vie de vin product) maintaining the flora and fauna ecosystem of Albury.
Here is the brief on my meeting with Alex.
SUMI : Share with us your background and how you got into English wines.
ALEX: I studied my doctorate at Milan University specializing in fruitculture and viticulture way back in 1996. Then an opportunity came up in the UK and I joined Hilliers Nurseries for 3 years before moving to Wisley RHS garden for the next 10 years where I looked after soft fruits, vine collections and the model garden. I was also responsible for running the team, organising shows, public demo, training the students and also helped establish Wisley’s small vineyard as well. In 2009 set up my own consultancy business which is around the time when I met Nick, who was also looking for a vineyard manager for his newly established sparkling wine business. Everything fell in place and the rest is history. Still self-employed, I am contracted by Nick to run the operations at Albury along with running my own business of fruit trees restoration that I have a passion for….
SUMI: What according to you is/(are) the most important factor(s) in viticulture that affect quality of English wine?
ALEX: Site selection is crucial in order to minimise frost and related climatic unpredictabilities. Alert management, is key as we always have to be one step ahead to respond to weather changes. Apart from this, canopy management and soil nutrition is essential and something that one has to monitor regularly.
SUMI: What is Albury’s viticultural strategy with the new vineyard acquisition?
ALEX: Our strategy is to become sustainable and manage the vineyard. Although conventionally for now, we aim at a “smart” way of doing that.
SUMI: What do you do when not tending to vines?
ALEX: So when I am not with the vines, I prune and restore old fruit trees/orchard and consult for others. In my spare time and if and when I can take time off, I go back to Italy with my two dogs Attila and Ulisse to visit my family. I love skiing and also enjoy waterskiing too.
SUMI: If not viticulturalist, what would you have been?
ALEX: If not viticulturist, I would have been an archaeologist. I love anything to with ancient world. That’s just who I am!
SUMI: Message for women looking to become viticulturist. Do you see many women in this profession?
ALEX: Be strong and determined. Don’t let anyone tell you that this is a man’s job. What you do need in this job is to have patience and pay a lot of attention to details. Able women who are diligent and have a love for nature can become experts. It may be physically hard but that does not make it impossible.
Click on Albury vineyards to read more about their biodynamic philosophy.