Nestled in Devon’s picturesque Axe Valley is The Lyme Bay Winery, a small West Country company that produces delicious wines, ciders, meads and liqueurs. Inspired by traditional recipes, they push the boundaries and use the most up to date production techniques and employ some of the country’s most talented wine making and brewing experts to produce their award winning range.
Who are you and what do you do? I am James Lambert and I have the best job in the world as Managing Director of the Lyme Bay Winery. We make unique, high-quality drinks from cider to English wines, and many other categories between. Many of our drinks are recognised internationally for their excellence by awarding bodies like Decanter and the International Cider Competition.
Tell us about how the winery came to life Being a West Country man by birth and heart, Nigel Howard returned to East Devon after a successful career in the City to follow his dream in producing only the highest quality West Country cider. Lyme Bay started out from very humble beginnings and there are some interesting tales regarding the first few batches (with plenty of hair-brained ideas along the way!). However as the company grew, our consistency improved and our customer base grew steadily. We subsequently relocated to our current site near Shute in 2000 and began to diversify into fruit liqueurs, fruit wines and cream liqueurs.
I joined the Company in 2006 and brought with me some experience in winemaking and drink manufacture in general. More than that though, both Nigel and I shared a common passion for wine, together with a firm belief that England could produce high quality still and sparkling wine, given the right vineyard location and technical expertise. Fast-forward to today and we have realised that dream: our first vintage release in 2015 won immediate domestic and international success, as did our subsequent one.
Which was the first product you started with? What was the inspiration in starting to produce them? Cider. I grew up in Norfolk and although we do have some large and small cider producers, it is an entirely different proposition in the South West. For a start the traditional apples of Somerset, Devon, Herefordshire and Cornwall are an entirely different beast to those grown in the South East: they are full-bodied, tannic, bitter and much fuller-flavoured. That might not sound all that appealing, until you’ve tasted a well-crafted cider made from their fermentation. There’s something unique and almost spiritual about the drink and the industry here. A good West Country cider is fascinatingly complex, as is its drinking history. It’s only when you speak to some of the producers large and small, that you begin to grasp the passion with which the drinks are crafted and the traditions that are kept alive. In a nutshell, that is why we were founded and why I fell in love with the company and the place as soon as I set foot in the building.
What is the inspiration behind the name and logo? Our location: it drives everything. From our Lyme Bay Winery logo depicting the world-famous Lyme Bay coastline, to our Jack Ratt branded cider which celebrates local hero Jack Rattenbury; a prolific 18th Century smuggler who used the naturally occurring caves that are dotted along the Lyme Bay coastline to stash his contraband.
Are there any other distilleries or wineries which have influenced you? I started my training and career in a much larger contract wine bottler and drinks manufacturer near to where I grew up. It taught me two invaluable lessons. First, if you want to succeed at anything, you’ve got to be prepared to roll your sleeves up and work damn hard. Second, it gave me an insight into the commercial side to drinks manufacturing that I didn’t want to be a part of which, ultimately, led me to leave and instead join Lyme Bay. Even by my mid-twenties, I had learned the importance of standing by your own guiding principles, principles I found echoed in the Lyme Bay Winery philosophy, namely; making products with integrity and only the highest quality. I’m proud when I look at the team we’ve built now all sharing that same passion.
I ought also to highlight two pioneers in the English wine industry that blew my mind before our sparkling wines were winning such critical acclaim: Ridgeview and Nyetimber. I’ll never forget the first blind tasting of these two English Wines amongst some big-hitting Champagnes in my WSET training days, which was a big eye opener for what our industry could achieve.
Looking ahead, what new things can we expect from Lyme Bay over the coming months? There’s lots going on! In brief, everything we’re doing is about improving quality at all times. This starts with our drinks, but extends throughout our supply chain all the way to the incredible customer service that we are famous for.
I can announce that we are launching some really exciting new branding and products this year: a 3 litre cider bag-in-box for both our Jack Ratt scrumpy and Jack Ratt vintage ciders, featuring some fantastic and eye-catching branding.
We’ll be offering a truly innovative new take on mead: Yore – a lower ABV (4%) sparkling mead designed to offer an alternative to cider and lager.
We’re also giving some of our oldest ranges a much-needed facelift, like our 35cl ‘tall’ liqueur range. Also, look out for some new sparkling English wines – a 2013 Classic Cuvée, and 2014 Blanc de Noir and Rosé.
We are aiming to achieve the BRC Global Standard for quality in April, and we’re also working on a really exciting, new product due for release early next year – but I can’t give any details away about that one just yet!
We know that there are lots of weird and wonderful flavours added to liqueurs these days. You already have an extensive selection of flavoured liqueurs and wines; do you have any plans to make further flavoured editions? Is there any flavour combinations that you think would work particularly well? We’re always working on new combinations and get together regularly to taste our Head Winemaker’s latest concoctions! It’s fantastic to see the drinks industry, driven by craft beer, moving away from mass-produced drinks full of artificial flavours, colours and all manner of unnatural additives.
We remain committed to sourcing as locally as possible for all of our products; however we have been working on an interesting fruit cider for the Far East using mango, which is a new one on us!
Where do you see, or hope to see, the winery in 5 years’ time? Our drinks are fantastic and consistently surprise people in the best possible way when they try them. For us, the key focus over the next 5 years is all about supporting that quality by communicating a clear message to our customers and consumers. To support that, we have plans to de-clutter our product ranges and consolidate our branding with a more instantly recognisable ‘look’ in product design.
We will continue to innovate (it’s just what we do!) and we have some large projects running in the background at the moment which could well shape our future. We will be expanding our retail arm, as we know we can engage much more at a local level and offer a fun and enjoyable visiting experience. We will also continue our expansion into the on-trade and exports, leading with our award-winning ciders, English wines and, increasingly, our fruit wines and meads.
Finally, our most important area that we’re constantly developing is our team. Without our staff and their passion for Lyme Bay and our products, we couldn’t make any long-term plans for success.
What was your first drink and where were you when you had it? Beer, bought for me by my dad while on holiday as a teen. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
What drink can you no longer face having had one too many? Sambuca. No more needed to say about it.
What is the silliest thing you’ve done whilst drunk? Proposed. Thankfully, it wasn’t to my current (and first and only!) wife.
Finally, do you have a favourite cocktail recipe you would like to share with our readers? I love to keep it simple with a cocktail and I’m a James Bond man all the way: Vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred, (to open it up and chill it more):
3oz Black Cow Vodka
Dash of Vermouth
Thanks for chatting with us James!