Oxney, the largest organic estate producer in the UK, is the non-biological child of the talented Kristen Syltevik. We talked to her about what it takes to set up a vineyard with zero experience, her favourite wines and ideas for making the industry more diverse.5 min read
What's a typical day for you?
While this sounds like a cop out, there is no typical day for me. I’m responsible for the vineyard, the production, working with our winemaker, sales… I can go on. My approach to tackling this quite challenging project has been, since we started in 2012, to tackle work in large chunks. Are we going to disgorge? Do a lot of disgorging! Do we need to label? Do as much labeling as we have room for in the wine store. The enemy of efficiency is always my head. Getting stuff done and moving on is my solution. Then there are the ongoing, everyday matters we need to deal with: sales enquiries, shipping wine, enquiries for our lovely holiday cottages. My third job is planning and forecasting: do we have enough bottles, corks, labour, machinery, etc. to get the work done? Running a vineyard is a bit like juggling with a couple of large medicine balls and 100 ping pong balls. Difficult!
What's your favourite style of wine?
Elegant, dry wines that are fruit forward, low intervention and wine that gives the drinker a clear vision of the vineyard and winery philosophy. Little and less is everything in winemaking.
Best mansplaining event?
This is probably best told over a glass of wine but having started work in a pretty male-oriented industry in the late 80s, I have quite a few! More recent examples are the equipment suppliers who, when meeting my partner Paul and I, can’t stop looking at Paul and talking to him… as he is a man and I am a woman… although I’m clearly the client they should be selling to. Drives me bananas. My other big bugbear is the lack of diversity at so many industry associations. Wines of Great Britain, for example, has seven male board members and two women. In Norway they introduced a quota for how many women should be at plc boards and I think that needs to be brought into the UK. And not just at plc board level.
What brought you to the job?
The vineyard is a massive love affair which I started after more than 20 years in PR. Having always been fond of a challenge, I got inspired when touring France in our red VW camper and started investigating how to grow grapes in the UK. This was 2011 and we will for sure raise a ten-year anniversary glass to the memory of a wonderful road trip and a brilliant idea this summer!
What do you like most about winemaking?
I love the challenge. Growing grapes organically and making wine in the UK is challenging. So is starting a new venture in a super complicated field with no experience.
Any advice for aspiring winemakers?
Start small. Try to do as much as you can yourself. And don’t believe the spreadsheets (they are always wrong).
Where’s your favorite place for a wine vacation?
It will have to be our French roadtrip in the camper van!
Which of your wines is your favourite?
Our top wines are the Classic series. The Classic is always a vintage and it’s incredible how they differ every year, even if like all our wines the grapes are only from our site. In winemaking the site is everything. but so is the weather!