Alison Nightingale – Albourne Estate
Brighton restaurant goers will be familiar with Alison Nightingale and her wine, identifiable by its wildlife labelling and produced just eight miles out of the city on the Albourne Estate boutique vineyard, close to Hurstpierpoint. This spring her range of award winning still and sparkling wines are being joined by a vermouth, the next big alcohol trend she predicts, not only as a key component for the Negroni and other cocktails, but enjoyed as well on its own.
We talk to Alison Nightingale, who lives on the vineyard with her three daughters and husband Nick, about the fledgling business she built from scratch.
What brought you to the wine business and what are your influences?
Our initial inspiration came from visiting lovely boutique wineries and vineyards in New Zealand and Australia some 18 years ago when myself and my husband Nick were working in Singapore. When we returned to the UK and my second child was born I stepped out of a corporate life in marketing and we moved to Hurstpierpoint from London.
Never one to be taking life quietly, I then enrolled part-time on the BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College and completed the course in four years while raising two toddlers. During my time at Plumpton Nick and I became increasingly interested with the idea of starting our own vineyard in the UK.
Why the South Downs?
We had lived in Hurstpierpoint since 2003 and loved this part of Sussex. We started hunting for a property shortly before I finished my Plumpton degree. We were looking not only for the perfect vineyard site in terms of soil, geology, micro-climate, winery buildings, but also a suitable family home. Having narrowly been out-bid on two properties further west, Albourne Farm came up for sale literally on our doorstep and we visited and made an offer the same day.
What do you enjoy most about the work?
The variety – I have to try and master everything – from working in the vineyard and understanding the soil and vine growth habits. It is great working in an industry in which people are so interested and actively enjoy your products. When someone comes up to me out of the blue and tells me how much they have enjoyed my wine in a local restaurant, it’s really great. A highlight was winning UK Wine of the Year in 2015 with our second only vintage of Bacchus (the 2014).
What distribution do you have in local eateries and bars?
I would estimate that at least 60 – 70% of my sales are to Sussex/Brighton customers. Well-known local restaurants and bars which stock my wine include Riddle & Finns, Isaac At, The Set, Drakes, Market in Brighton and further afield in Sussex, The Gingerman group of restaurants, Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield, Jeremy’s at Borde Hill and the Michelin starred Restaurant Tristan in Horsham.
Tell us about your vermouth.
40 – Infused with 40 botanicals, is the first Sussex vermouth. It is a highly complex tasting white semi-dry vermouth which uses many ingredients which are grown in the English countryside – including rosemary, thyme, rose petals and chamomile – alongside citrus peels, more exotic spices such as saffron and cardamom and the unexpected – coffee beans and tea.
This results is a complex and elegant drink which has 18% alcohol content and can be enjoyed on its own as an aperitif or instead of a dessert wine. Alternatively, it can be mixed with sparkling wine, as part of a cocktail, or – my favourite – with a quality tonic water, as one part 40, one part tonic. 40 has already won its first award in The Spirits Business Master 2017 blind-tasting competition. A little bit special.
What inspired you to make the vermouth?
The idea came from working with my Italian wine consultant. As we have seen with Campari and Aperol, the classics popular in the 70’s, there is a revival of interest in vermouth. Vermouth bars are opening in London, following the trend in New York and it is a popular ingredient in Negroni.
What ambition do you have for the vermouth?
My ambition is to get more local people trying and drinking vermouth, thinking of it as part of something they would regularly order in a bar or restaurant – both as part of a cocktail and as a drink on its own. We’ve come up with two cocktail ideas – The English Rose with gin, tonic water, a splash of rose water, optional sugar syrup to taste and a sprinkling of dried rose petals and The Elderflower – which we hope will be added to.
I believe that we are ahead of the wave in what could be the next big thing after gin.
I believe we will with time, through various marketing/PR initiatives and involvement with the Brighton food scene such as the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival, Foodies Festival and other local events, become as well-known as Brighton Gin.
What should restaurants and bars do if they want to list your wine or vermouth?
I’ve already started to make personal visits to a number of outlets to give them a bottle and it has been very well received. I’d be very happy to hear from other restaurants and bars interested in me coming to talk about 40 or our wines. Contact either myself at www.albourneestate.co.uk or my distributor Sheridan Coopers.