Monday, April 19, 2010

Interview: Tim Pearson, 7 Springs Vineyard - Part 1

INTRODUCTION:  Tim Pearson (7 Springs Vineyard) came to Brad’s attention several months ago on the social/professional media outlet, LinkedIn.  During the intervening months Tim and Brad have exchanged comments, suggestions, and shared a general interest of wine together on LinkedIn and on Facebook.  Two Wine Brothers is grateful to have Tim Pearson as our first online interview.  Tim possesses an authentic and passionate personality, an obvious love of wine, South Africa, and his family.
The Two Wine Brothers (Terry and Brad) worked together to forge six interview questions carefully designed to succinctly capture Tim’s personal background, winemaking passion, and the business realities of a newly forming winery located in South Africa.
The Seven Springs Vineyard is a premium winery located in picturesque Western Cape, South Africa, between the seaside town of Hermanus and the Spa Town of Caledon.
Two Wine Brothers: Can you tell us a little about your background (e.g., family, work-life, and education) and how you found your way into the wine business?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: I was born in a small village in the east of England, called Crowland, in 1953. At school, I was never an academic child eventually left at age 17 and ultimately did not go on to higher education. I moved to Stratford upon Avon in 1977 to work as an Agronomist in the agricultural industry, meeting my wife, Vaughan, in 1979 and marrying her a year later. We have two daughters, Kim born in 1984 and Katie born in 1986. I left the agriculture business in 1987 to build a 5 star hotel in Mauritius with 2 friends.
We were very close to funding this project but in the early 1990s a recession hit and the bank that was going to fund us pulled out. Vaughan found a job to keep us solvent.  At that time we had a £6,000 bank debt, and I took a sales and marketing job with a cleaning company in 1991. In 1993, I left to start my own cleaning business called, Goldcrest Cleaning Ltd., and it is the profits from this business that has enabled us to provide funding for Seven Springs Vineyard. 
Over the years I have become more and more interested in wine and we spent many happy hours when the girls were younger camping in the Loire Valley and visiting many of the wine farms there. Our connection with South Africa happened because we lived there for 6 months in late 1994/95 when I was looking at buying a small, cleaning business there. The venture did not happen, because the person selling the business started changing the rules, so we came back to the UK and I concentrated on building up Goldcrest Cleaning.

Two Wine Brothers: What financial factors lead you to locate your vineyard and winery in South Africa?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: It was not financial factors that led us to choose South Africa as a destination for our wine farm, it was a couple of other factors. Firstly, having lived there for 6 months (we lived in the east of the country near the Kruger National Park) we had fallen in love with the country and the potential of the country. Secondly, I had met many of South Africa’s winemakers at the annual London International Wine Fair and my passion for the country and her wines increased.
Vaughan and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary on a South African holiday in 2005 and it was before this trip that Vaughan said “If you are still interested in looking at South Africa to start a wine farm, now would be a good time”. By now, our daughters had both left school, my business could be run without me and we had met people in South Africa who could help us. It was during that visit that Vaughan said “If we are going to buy anywhere this would be the perfect place”. Vaughan was describing the Hemel en Aarde Valley (Heaven on Earth in English) and this was a perfect win, win, situation for me as I knew the area had high elevation, cooler climate, and great potential, and is one of the most visually stunning places on earth!

Two Wine Brothers: You’ve just harvested your first full crop of Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, with Pinot Noir coming on line in a couple of years. What went into your decision to grow and craft wines from these noble varietals? What are your current production levels (i.e., volume in cases/varietal) and what do you think they’ll be in ten years?
Tim Pearson/7Springs Vineyard: After purchasing 12 hectares (30 acres) of land on north and south facing slopes (we already had soil analysis results from the whole area), the land had not been used for vineyard before and had cattle grazing happily on it. This analysis showed that the soil was capable of growing a number of varietals and producing high quality results from the land. It is one area of South Africa that is producing first class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay so we decided to plant these two varietals first. It was also given top scores for Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc so made a plan to plant each varietal on the most suitable parts of the land.
The red varieties were to be planted on north facing slopes, the whites on south facing slopes (this is the reverse of the northern hemisphere because the sun rises the opposite way round). As we are waiting for the vines to fully mature we are limiting our production. Our Pinot Noir is a couple of years off producing the quality of grape that we require, so 2012 will be our first year of production.
This year we are making around 12,000 bottles from 1 hectare of Sauvignon Blanc, 2.1 hectares of Chardonnay and 2 hectares of Syrah. We are making our wines at a friend’s winery, called Iona Vineyards, this year and hope to build our own winery and tasting room later in 2010. We will be building a winery with a crush facility of over 100 tons as we have access to first class grapes being grown next door to us. We will have about 10 hectares planted ourselves, 3.5 of Pinot Noir, 2 of Syrah, 2.5 of Chardonnay and 2 of Sauvignon Blanc.
In ten years time we do not know what our production levels will be. We have asked our winery architect to come up with a design that will allow us to expand if required. We are flexible and will make decisions on a yearly basis. We will be looking to reinvest our profits back into the winery and vineyards.
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End of Part 1.  The Two Wine Brothers will post Part-2 on Wednesday, 4/21/10.

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