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28 Jun 2021

Meet the Makers: Ruth and Charles Simpson

A smiling man and woman stand in a very green vineyard. Two labs sit beside them. Two large tubs lie on the ground before them, to be used for harvesting grapes.
Harvest time
The Trust’s Meet the Makers series is proudly sponsored by Naked Wines, where the world’s best independent winemakers make their best wines. Here, we meet a husband-and-wife winemaking team supported by Naked Wines’ Angels.

We are a husband and wife team living the dream running wineries in both England and France. Our decision to cast aside our respective international careers in order to establish and run a high-quality, boutique wine business, initially in rural France, was driven by a desire to work together and to create a family business of our own. It involved a large degree of risk and a huge amount of determination to realise this mutual dream.

How did you get started in the wine trade?

Our passion for wine and desire to invest in an ‘emerging’ wine-producing area, rather than an area that was already well established, led us to the exciting and highly diverse French wine-producing region of Languedoc-Roussillon. The dream had always been to produce quality wine, and the property we found, Domaine Sainte Rose, provided us with the perfect raw materials.

We have now been making award-winning wines at Sainte Rose for 19 years! From our 40-hectare vineyard, we have created an eclectic range of wines that have won international acclaim and are sold around the world. In 2012, attracted by the quality of the terroir and the opportunity to become part of what is one of the most dynamic wine-producing regions of the world, we brought our expertise back to the UK, establishing Simpsons Wine Estate – with an aspiration to produce the finest quality English wines.

The flawless combination of savoir-faire, perfect vineyard sites, meticulous farming and impeccable winemaking has allowed us to create a diverse range of award-winning, estate-grown, still and sparkling wines at Simpsons Wine Estate. Our sparkling wines are created using the Great British Classic Method, maturing on lees for between 15 months and 4 years to achieve peak complexity. With a strong emphasis on provenance and place, our still wines are made from still varietal clones and are designed to challenge the perception of this category, both nationally and internationally.

A man and woman walk holding hands along a gravel path in front of a large stone house and decorative gateway. A colourful flowerbed can be seen in the foreground.
Domaine Sainte Rose

Tell us about your links to Scotland, and why you think it’s important to support the Trust?

I (Ruth) was born in Inverness and brought up in Edinburgh, where I attended St Margaret’s School and went on to study International Relations at St Andrews University, so I’m Scottish through and through! My mother actually worked for the National Trust for Scotland at their headquarters in Edinburgh before I was born. Then, when I was at school, she volunteered at two of their properties: first at Priorwood Garden in Melrose and then the Georgian House in Edinburgh. My parents were huge supporters of the Trust, so we visited many of the properties all over Scotland as a family when I was growing up.

Charles is from Northern Ireland originally, although he has a Scottish heritage as his mother’s maiden name was Andrews and the name Simpson is recognised as a sept of the Fraser clan.

We both believe that it is extremely important to support the Trust, as it plays two crucial roles. Firstly, it provides a vital link to Scotland’s colourful and varied history, preserving important properties and telling the stories behind them in a vivid and engaging way. Secondly, it undertakes hugely important environmental and conservation work, protecting some of Scotland’s most treasured landscapes, particularly the National Nature Reserves, which is where the Naked Wines support is directed.

What’s your favourite thing about running your own business?

We love the variety that our job provides and the fact that no two days are the same! The best thing about wine production is that it requires a unique combination of disciplines in order to create the end product and to be successful. It begins with farming: the importance of the land, choosing the appropriate rootstock, clones and grape varieties and then meticulous viticulture. This is followed by the technical winemaking side, which in our case involves the investment in and use of cutting-edge oenological equipment and applying a minimal intervention approach to maintain the purity and elegance of the fruit. Finally, there is the luxury goods sales and marketing of the finished product, the all-important presentation and positioning of the brand.

What’s been your proudest moment so far?

We have been fortunate enough to win many awards and accolades for wines from both our estates over the past 19 years. All of them mean the world to us and are a credit to the talented group of people we employ to help us create them. The most surprising and rewarding accolade to date, however, was when our Roman Road Chardonnay 2018 won a Platinum Medal and the highest accolade of ‘Best in Show’ in the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards (a title only bestowed on the top 50 wines entered into what is the largest, and most influential, international wine competition). Given we didn’t intend to make still wine in England, this highlights the quality and potential that this exciting area can offer.

A close-up view of a wine bucket, with four bottles of wine inside, sitting on a table filled with glasses. People are milling around a vineyard in the background.
The vineyard at Simpsons Wine Estate

When did you start working with Naked Wines, and what difference have they made to your journey?

We started working with Naked Wines in 2012 and we cannot speak highly enough of them as a partner. The security and support they provided was a game-changer for our French business at a time when we were considering starting our second business back in the UK. Their approach, as a partner rather than a client, resonates even stronger this year as we have been badly hit by frost in France and may not be able to make all the wines we would usually supply. Together, we are looking at creative ways across our vineyards to ensure we can supply them with whatever we can.

In England, Naked Wines has followed our journey from the outset and helped us through our first vintage in 2016, through Angel funding. This creative funding model saw 1,200 Angels pre-purchase a case of our first English sparkling wine, before the grapes had even been picked! These ‘Angel’ investors then decided on the blend of the final wine, provided suggestions for and then voted for the name of the wine, and finally voted for the label design. We have continued making this exclusive wine for Naked ever since and have gone on to make two English still wines for them too.

Tell us about your favourite wine …

Asking for a favourite wine is like asking which is our favourite child, so we’ll at least have to pick one from each estate!

We are particularly pleased with our new vintage of the Simpsons of Barham Court Chardonnay (2020), which will be released on the Naked Wines website later this year. We believe that UK Chardonnays have the potential to challenge areas of Burgundy such as Chablis. Due to the identical terroir, Chardonnays from the UK can display the same minerality, elegance and ageing potential as those grown in Chablis and some other parts of Burgundy.

From Sainte Rose, it has to be our hugely popular Sparkling Syrah. When Naked asked us if we could create a ‘sparkling shiraz’, we were delighted to rise to the challenge, although it had to be a ‘Sparkling Syrah’ as its roots are firmly in France. Its refreshing blackberry and raspberry flavours, combined with a hint of oak, make it taste like Christmas pudding in a glass!

A man and a woman stand in a still room in a winery. They are both holding a glass of wine. Very large shiny metal stills can be seen behind them.
Ruth and Charles Simpson | Thomas Alexander Photography

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

A big focus for Simpsons Wine Estate in 2021 is sustainability, something we take incredibly seriously. We are currently working towards full accreditation with the WineGB sustainability scheme and we are planning a significant solar PV installation on the roof of our winery building. At Sainte Rose in France we achieved Haute Valeur Environnementale accreditation in 2019; during 2021 we also hope to attain the ‘Bee Friendly’ status.

In the immediate term, we do have some exciting new product releases from England this year and we are looking forward to welcoming lots of visitors to the vineyard and winery throughout the summer. When COVID restrictions are fully relaxed, we will finally be able to allow visitors a ride down our helter skelter slide, which we believe is the only winery slide in the world! It has been off-limits during the pandemic, so we’re excited to open it up again!

Naked Wines is proud to support the National Trust for Scotland’s Meet the Maker series. Enjoy 6 delicious bottles of wine handcrafted by award-winning independent winemakers for just £49.99 – saving over £55. Even better, Naked Wines will donate 20% of proceeds back to the Trust for every case purchased.

Snap up your exclusive case from our friends at Naked Wines.


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