Carr Taylor Vineyards was founded in 1971 when David Carr Taylor, an engineer with a passion for fine wines, planted 21 acres of vineyards just north of Hastings. The intention was to grow fine-quality, distinctively English wines from specially adapted German vines.
As with many start-up businesses, cash-flow could be problematic. For vineyards, the first crop only appears after five years, demand for wine is highly seasonal, peaking at Christmas, mid-summer and Easter, and there is no protection against fluctuating harvests and prices.
Carr Taylor did well during the booming '80s. But, as the recession hit in the early '90s, English wine suffered a drop in demand and many wine producers went out of business. Carr Taylor survived but only through a major redefinition of identity and diversification of products designed to bring in revenue and to even out cash-flow.
First, the vineyard developed an on-site shop and touring facility. Coachloads of people are now given lectures on vinification, tours of the vineyards and tasting sessions. In a tie-up with the English Tourist Authority, it produces a wine called 1066. Second, it makes maximum use of its expensive plant and equipment by bottling imported wines for the supermarkets. Third, the vineyard is now targeting national retail markets.
'Supermarkets need volume,' explains Carr Taylor. 'You have to be able to offer them 100,000 bottles a year, whereas most of our reserves are produced in batches of 10,000.' The vineyard has therefore developed a special Champagne-style sparkling wine, which will be produced in large quantities, packaged like champagne and retailing at £6.99. Carr Taylor expects the vineyard's turnover to double next year.
Sarah Gracie is a senior writer at Venture Capital Report.