Farmers Weekly Awards 2020: Diversification Farmer of the Year

Alice Maltby and Tom and Henry Wilson, Little Wold Vineyard, South Cave, East Yorkshire

The team at Little Wold Vineyard possess an steely desire to overcome hardship by diversifying into unconventional areas that complement their existing setup.

Bold future plans, a bumper order book and continued investment to drive the business forward makes them admirable winners of this year’s title.

Farm facts

  • 80ha
  • Fourth-generation family farm
  • Split between steep, chalky hillsides and productive level land
  • 12,000 vines planted to date with extra rented land to grow them
  • Short rotation willow coppice farmed as part of a co-op

A desire to bring family back into the business and own the farm outright has led Henry Wilson down some bold paths over the past few decades, and the family’s hard work has ultimately ended up with a thriving, multi-pronged outfit that can be handed down through the generations.

Conventional arable growing wasn’t justifiable on his small acreage and steep slopes, so Henry took on a contract to produce short rotation willow coppice on the flatter arable land.

This decision allowed the farm to sell a lot of equipment, including a John Deere Hill Master combine, to pay off debts and reinvest in 2,000 vines on the hillsides.

Making it work

Inventive income streams were needed to foot the four-year gap until the first crop of grapes could generate a profit.

Inspired by the views over the vines, South Cave and up to the Pennines, the family started a wedding business and held their first one in 2014.

Dedication to making new ventures work meant the family were on hand to wash plates and glasses into the evening on the first wedding.

This commitment helped secure the reputation of the venue and the business has gone from strength to strength, with the family buying their own marquee to reduce renting costs and installing a bespoke flat area for it to sit on.

Recent lockdowns have curtailed a whole year of wedding bookings, and Alice has developed innovative ways to keep the farm alive by offering socially distanced picnic areas within the vines and pushing online wine selling to maintain a consistent cashflow. The online sales increased by 120%.

It is out of necessity to keep the banks happy and drive the business forward towards new goals that sets this family apart, and they have recently achieved another milestone by taking on their first full-time member of staff.

Wine production

The Tasting Room events venue is used as much as possible and there are big plans afoot to more than double the size of the site to accept more visitors and bigger wine-tasting groups.

This will also allow Alice to host other events alongside the wine tasting, with the possibility of starting a wine school to train people in the skill of growing and making British wine.

One of the biggest costs incurred by the business is £60,000/year to have the wine produced and bottled off site.

A £7/bottle duty is paid as it leaves the production site, whereas it would be £2/bottle if it was produced in-house, as it would be stored duty-free until sold.

The ambitious family plan to build their own wine production facility and invest roughly £250,000 in a purpose-built unit to ease cashflow bulges.

It’s a big but carefully calculated risk, with grant funding applied for to help with the construction.

Any expenditure is carefully planned and the whole family has to be in agreement.

Currently, demand is outstripping the 14,000 bottles/year supply, so the family rents an extra vineyard locally.

The community is also involved to learn how to prune and care for the vines, as hiring knowledgeable staff within viniculture is tricky.

Winning ways

  • Demand outstripping supply of award-winning wine
  • Innovative ways of generating income during lockdown
  • Dedication and hard work from all the family
  • Marketing in-house to keep control of costs and quality
  • Vision to bring wine production in-house to ease cashflow peaks
  • Two revenue streams dovetail well

A word from the independent judge

“A real family concern with three generations helping and sharing the workload – the use of marginal land and a stunning view to combine a vineyard and wedding venue is bold and inventive, with big plans to develop further in the future.”

Oliver McEntyre, national agricultural strategy director at Barclays

Other finalists were:

  • Molly Coombs
    Grand Get-Togethers, Sherburn, North Yorkshire
  • Anthony and Christine Snell
    British Frozen Fruits, Harewood End, Herefordshire

See also: Farmers Weekly Awards: Diversification finalists 2020

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