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Producer of the Month: Hilary Waller, Co-founder, Eastcott Vineyard

Producer of the Month: Hilary Waller, Co-founder, Eastcott Vineyard

Producer of the Month: Hilary Waller, Co-founder, Eastcott Vineyard

2011 is set to be a vintage year for British vineyards, with the sunny spurt at the end of April causing grape buds to emerge early with little frost damage. As the month of June also incorporates English Wine Week it seems fitting to profile a British wine producer. 

Eastcott vineyard is situated 150 metres above sea level on a Southeast-facing slope. Five years ago, founders Hilary and Richard Waller chose this location to plant 6,000 vines, selecting grape varieties that had been carefully chosen to suit the English climate. They also converted part of a barn into a state-of-the-art winery so that they could make all their wines on-site. 

The still wines they produce are ready for drinking after 6-9 months. The blends and styles of the still wines vary each year according to the harvest. Their sparkling wines are made using the traditional method - Methode Champenoise - as originally developed by Charles Merrett in England in the seventeenth century. This method involves double fermentation, so the wines need lengthy maturation and 2 to 3 years before they are ready to consume. The Guardian described Eastcott's sparkling wine as a top quality and affordable alternative to Champagne. 

  • Why do you do what you do? 

Initially we wanted to have a change of lifestyle and to have the chance of learning something different. We have not only now achieved this but we are doing something which we feel passionately proud about and have responsibility for, in every stage of the process. Richard's domain is the Winery and mine is the Vineyard, so together we handle everything in-house, from grape to glass, for both our still and sparkling wines. 

  • What achievement are you most proud of? 

Being brave enough to pack in corporate life and having faith in our own abilities. Five years on, we still have few benchmarks against which to judge our progress, but have never regretted taking the plunge. So many people say ‘Oh, I've heard of people like you but never met anyone who has actually done it'. - What is your most memorable moment? That's easy – picking our first grape crop and being able to take them straight into our winery to start pressing while the pickers carried on. When the crew finished they were able to taste the freshly pressed juice and everyone thought it tasted so fruity that we should be bottling it on its own.

  • If you were Prime Minister, what one thing would you do to encourage more people to eat British food? 
Appoint a British Food Tsar, with responsibility for fixing the problem that supermarkets want to buy homegrown food cheaper than producers can afford to sell it, e.g. egg farmers who may have to sell their eggs cheaper than the cost of feeding the hens. 

  • What is your favourite food and why? 
I think that if I ever moved away from Britain, the thing that I would miss the most would be smoked streaky British bacon. I used to have a fried breakfast every day before I went to school, including fried bread. Today, of course that is viewed as very unhealthy, but I still love bacon as a cooking ingredient or as part of a main dish. 

  • What are your predictions for the future of British food? 
We need encourage people to feel proud to eat food produced in this country. We may not be able to compete on price so we're going to have to capture the hearts of the consumers. Standards of British food will continue to be exemplary which will encourage consumers to stay loyal. There will be greater promotion of British food heroes such as Cheddar and Pork Pies. 

  • If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food during the Olympics? 
My dinner is a British winner 

  • Best budget tip? 
Try going a week without using your Food Recycling Bin. We never have food waste because we use all our leftovers either to eat or to compost. 

  • What's on the menu this evening? 
Jamie Olivers' Roasted Squash Risotto. 

  • How can people get hold of your produce? 
We mainly sell direct from the vineyard or online. We have a growing number of local outlets in Devon and North Cornwall and take our wines to seasonal events like Food & Drink fares and agricultural shows etc. See our website or call 01837 811012 for more details of our opening times, guided tours of the vineyard & winery and outlets. You can also stay at the vineyard in one of our holiday cottages.