The co-founder of Oastbrook Estate, America Brewer, on starting from scratch, how they have evolved and why they introduced the ever-popular Hobbit House
What is your background in the drinks industry?
I started my career in Brazil working for a bank and it was only really when I came to London and started working in hospitality that I became more involved in the wine world. I left to live in Geneva and there I started spending time in vineyards in the Jura. After seven years in Hong Kong, my husband Nick and I came back to England and that’s when I decided to study Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton. I wanted to plant my own vineyard and start making wine.
What brought you back to England back in 2013?
It was a combination of things. Nick had an opportunity to set up a business in the UK and we wanted Gabby – our youngest daughter – to experience the UK and have more of an outdoor upbringing in the countryside. I also had my sister in the UK.
Why did you and Nick want to buy Oastbrook Estate?
At that time there was no Oastbrook Estate – just a house and some land. It was only when we realised that our neighbours had successfully planted a vineyard and we did some studies into the microclimate and terroir here that we realised that the land we had bought was perfect for growing vines.
What were your ambitions from the off?
We realised that as a smaller vineyard we would have to offer accommodation and hospitality for the venture to be successful and we decided to focus on high quality wines made in small batches.
How much has changed at the Estate since then?
A lot has changed at Oastbrook – we have planted 15 acres of vines, built a winery, laboratory and tasting room plus a number of holiday homes including our very own Hobbit House. To start with we had put the whole estate over to organic pasture to improve the soils and only after a few years did we plant the vines. We’ve focused all the way through on the sustainability of the estate and reducing our carbon footprint. We’ve hosted a few events including an Opera event and a Shakespeare play. It feels very much like its own wine village these days.
Why is Sussex so good for vineyards?
Sussex is great primarily because of the soils and the amount of sunshine without too much rain.
What are your most popular wines?
The Oastbrook range changes quite often as we only make smaller batches that sell out, but to name a few, our Pinot Gris, Sparkling Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and white Pinot Meunier are some of our most popular wines.
When did you introduce accommodation to Oastbrook Estate – and what’s the story behind the Hobbit House?
We started introducing accommodation at Oastbrook at the end of 2018 and our first place was the Hobbit House. We wanted something that was different and iconic and unlike anything else that could be found, and we’ve tried to continue that unique theme throughout everything that we do here at Oastbrook.
How often do you hold vineyard tours and what happens on them?
In the height of summer, we hold tours five days a week, but otherwise from April to October we do them at weekends. Nick and I host all the tours, as we think it’s really important that people have contact with the owners and winemakers. I do the vineyard tour and it’s fun and informative, and people learn about our story and the history of the area. Then we go into the tasting room where Nick shares his story, and we talk about all the wines that our guests’ taste.
What summer events do you have in store (note this interview will be out in August)?
We have a Bollywood, wine and dine event planned for September. This will be a time to dress up and hit the dance floor with great food and wine plus music and a show.