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Bouncing Back Q&A: Jacob Leadley, CEO & winemaker, Black Chalk Wine

Published:  15 December, 2021

Continuing our seasonal Bouncing Back Q&A series, Jacob Leadley takes stock of the challenges and lessons of 2021 and considers the path ahead for the trade.

The beginning of January marked the end of the Brexit transition period – how well has your company adapted to this new normal?

We were well prepared and had worked on contingency plans to ensure our production plans were not disrupted. Like many in the industry the main impact has been on lead times; we are now placing orders six months ahead of our normal practice.”

The WTSA contacted the government in November, outlining suggestions to help solve the current transport crisis. What measures have you put in place to cope with the inevitable delays and disruption?

Fortunately, the majority of our sales are UK-based, and domestic transport is less disrupted. We are not seeing any delays and exports (our key markets are Japan and Scandinavia) seem to be moving well and in good time.

What is the most important business lesson you've learnt during the pandemic?

Adapt quickly and be flexible. Making quick decisions in March and April last year certainly helped us ensure we maintained a forward momentum during the Pandemic.

Has a succession of lockdowns fundamentally altered consumer behaviour?

I think it is too early to know whether there will be long term behaviour changes. Right now, I would say that consumer behaviour is being influenced by the pandemic. People are more considered about eating out – anecdotally spending more money on good wines – and at-home drinking appears to be about drinking better but less. This is very much linked to on-going restrictions to travel; consumers are saving money on travel and spending elsewhere. Consumers adapt quickly, what has been tricky is trying to keep up.

Are you happy with the budget announcements made in the autumn?

From the perspective of an English wine producer, it would have been great to see some focused support for small wine producers in the budget akin to those other sectors receive. But overall, I do think government are keen to find ways to support the industry.

Are you concerned about the size of the 2021 harvest?

No. We yielded slightly higher than 2020. Neither was a bumper crop, but quality – always the focus at Black Chalk – remains high. You have to work on longer averages when growing fruit in England.

In light of the reintroduction of stricter Covid measures, what are you expectations for Christmas 2021?

Similar to the last nine months; strong DTC sales and growing demand from trade.

What are your priorities and predictions for 2022?

We are in a nice position going into 2022 with all our wine on allocation, so our priority is to improve our visitor experience and explore new markets for larger volumes from 2023.

Can the digital revolution help the trade engage with consumers in a way that would have been impossible 30 years ago?

The answer is undoubtedly yes. We have so many more tools at our disposal to engage with consumers. Digital is also a fantastic channel to deliver more information to hungry consumers.

Quickfire questions:

Red, white or rose? Red

Film or book? Film

Champagne or English sparkling? English Sparkling Wine

European city break, or UK staycation? European City Break