WWC23 – Wendy Outhwaite, by Bronwen Batey

Wendy Outhwaite at Redfold Vineyards, May 2023 (credit Bronwen Batey)

In this submission to our 2023 wine writing competition, freelance writer Bronwen Batey writes about her favourite wine person, English vintner Wendy Outhwaite. See this guide to our competition.

Bronwen Batey writes Bronwen has been a freelance wine and travel writer for three years, having segued from 25-years working in hospitality to a new career in wine. Trading her heels for hunters she found her happy place working harvests at an English vineyard.  Bronwen is currently in the final few months studying for the WSET Diploma in Wines and when she is not searching for an under-the-radar, affordable wine that combines quality and quaffability, she is exploring her never-ending list of wine regions.  As the wine columnist for the UK lifestyle country magazine, Wildflower, Bronwen focusses on English and Welsh wines alongside local wine tourism, with a not-so-subtle bias towards her Australian wine roots. 

My favourite wine person: Wendy Outhwaite

I wasn’t meant to meet Wendy Outhwaite.  Call it destiny or happenstance, the stars were aligned when we connected.    

In early 2020, I took the plunge to leave my 25-year career in hotel marketing to visit my ageing parents overseas, I needed a break from the grind and to be honest, I needed to find some purpose in life.  

Who knew the world was about to implode?

At the start of what was to become several Covid lockdowns, I was one of many who pivoted from a great job into the abyss of days in pyjamas.  The ‘planes were grounded so what else could we do but bake bread and drink wine?   

I preferred wine.  It featured in the ‘hobbies’ section of my former CV – my thirst quenched by Aussie and plonk at that.  I had studied at the famous oenology school in South Australia, Roseworthy College, but as I rode horses and drank a lot of Bundy rum there, I can’t claim much wine knowledge was imparted to me.

Combining a need to get up and do something, I thought the online wine courses at WSET looked interesting. Going back to school was a novelty (and a luxury) I could now do.   

Many months of blind tastings and theory exams later, I had bought a wine fridge, built up a sizeable wine book collection, devoured every wine documentary and nerdy wine podcast I could find, and after joining WineGB, with WSET level 3 exams looming, I thought doing a harvest would be fun.  We make wine in England, 2020 was a hot, sunny vintage and I love the outdoors. 

I didn’t consider how that decision would turn my world upside down.

In autumn 2020, lockdown had eased. I emailed four vineyards within a few miles of my in-laws in West Sussex (with the promise of a hot bath, meal and bed each evening).  Only one vineyard answered my harvest pleas: Redfold, producer of Ambriel Sparkling, co-founded by Wendy Outhwaite .

First sighting

Going from five-star hotel to muddy vineyard means a fashion overhaul.  In my best farmer-boot-and-hat combo I drove down the long driveway to the winery  With vines on either side of me rolling to the South Downs, a frisson went through me.  This was a whole new world, far from the text books and blind tastings.  This was real and raw; a fusion of nature, the land and an almost primal devotion for the finest drink in the world, and I was here.   

Rounding a row of vines, ahead of me Wendy, waving, smiling.  I think I found my happy place.


When you google Wendy Outhwaite, what you may not expect to find is QC after her name, hand in hand with English wine producer.  Oxford University graduate, former barrister in public law, human rights and equality.  If I had read Wendy’s bio before the first harvest, I would have been overwhelmed.  Yet it’s her humour, honesty and humility that precedes Wendy.

Having planted vines at her West Sussex property in 2008, Wendy exchanged wig and gown for a farmer’s tan, to create what is today one of the UK’s most celebrated sparklings.  Together with her husband, Charles, it’s a meticulous hands-on approach to their vines and wines that has resulted in distinctly English wines, and winning wines at that – a memorable moment must have been when Ambriel Classic Cuvee NV was chosen by Decanter as one of their Sparkling Wines of the Year in 2020, joint second with Krug 2006 (yet only 15% of its  price).

English but not as we know it

Wendy and Charles describe their wines as ‘ Ebulliently English’ in style and substance.  

In my humble opinion, Wendy epitomises England’s new and booming wine industry in more ways than one.  Her inherent optimism for all things English sparkling is infectious.  I was hooked after my first harvest at Redfold and as a mentor Wendy instils in me that working in wine is not a day job, it’s a life passion.

Power of conviction

Future proofing the fledgling English wine industry is about being transparent, about caring for the community of producers and, most importantly, the final product.  Wendy leads the way when it comes to sharing and caring.  Whether crafting her product or marketing her wines, being passionate about what you do is key, from “…. following the evolution of the wine as it ages in the bottle. That transformation - as the Sleeping Beauties lie undisturbed for years - is the closest thing to magic I know”, to the shared experience of happiness, “when someone tastes your wine and says they love it, I get as much joy from it as they do”.  

Embracing collaboration between wine producers - a far cry from some of the more traditional wine regions across the world – Wendy’s love for our vines is contagious, she’s a one-woman band handing out invitations to the English wine party.  Supporting my fledgling wine career, Wendy has opened doors and encouraged me to take on challenges I would never have had the confidence to do, from consulting on wine tourism to taking on the mighty WSET Diploma to entering wine writing competitions.  Imposter syndrome is ever-present when you consider a mid-life change of career, yet Wendy shrugs her shoulders and says nothing like the present to get cracking.    

Innovate the future

Compared to the grand old-world wine regions, the English wine scene is a mere teenager.  It’s fresh and new, with experimental producers evolving the industry each vintage.  Planting their vineyard a good ten years after the heady launch of the great British sparkling gave Wendy and Charles a clear insight on what an English wine SWOT looked like, learnings from which allow the next generation of wine producers to be that much more innovative.   

As one of the first producers’ to create a Demi-Sec NV sparkling, (unfashionable back in 2010), it made sense to Wendy as “our signature English acidity perfectly cuts through a higher dosage”.  A style other English producers have since taken to with success.

Working towards a sustainable future is part of the viticultural narrative worldwide.  In England’s difficult maritime cool climate, Wendy raises the bar: her R&D never stops, there’s a solution to every challenge.  As a regular speaker on the international regenerative viticulture circuit, Wendy is a font of eco-knowledge.  Sustainability is in her vineyard’s DNA, from introducing what must be the cutest natural weeders and fertilisers over winter - Ouessant sheep - “they are so small that they can have a good scratch on the vines without damaging them”; to creating biodiversity with wildflowers; avoiding insecticides and herbicides by adding trees and hedges; using insect predators and experimenting with “plantings of the native Bird Cherry tree, the grape munching Spotted Wing Drosophila lays its eggs in the fruit of the tree.  Birds eat the cherries, however as SWD are not indigenous to the UK, their eggs cannot survive in the gut of native birds….natural predation at its most simple”.

Continuing into the winery, Redfold was one of the first to use a cross flow filter (rather than diatomaceous earth) and only steam cleans rather than using chemicals which “ironically saves water and leaves nothing nasty behind”.  Wendy’s favourite, a UVC barrel wand, is used to clean and sterilise the tanks and barrels, “it’s my Star Wars light sabre which I can woosh around but really it’s quicker and healthier than using water and chemicals”.  Next on her to do list?  Trialling green bottles and lighter glass, not always easy with the combustible nature of sparkling, and finding options for the aluminium foil on her bottles.

Never standing still, Wendy’s interest in Agritech, and Viti robots could be a lifesaver (or grape saver) when it comes to the future of English wines, considering labour issues at harvest and single plot harvesting .  

No wonder Ambriel HQ has been certified carbon neutral.

The professional

Even though Wendy’s glass is always half full, she is a realist - wine making is not all rosé tinted glasses.  The English Wine industry is only on the first chapter of its story, NV blends for its sparkling need decades to develop, whilst the region’s yo-yo vintage variation can be a frustration for growers and investors.

We all know the story of how the UK wine industry is growing at an eyewatering rate.  WineGB Industry Report 2021-2022  Today there are 197 wineries and 897 vineyards producing over eight million bottles each year, with sales increasing by nearly 70% over the past two years and hectares under vines quadrupling since 2000.  “In fact, grapes represent 32% of the UK soft fruit industry (more than blackcurrants, strawberries or any other soft fruit).  I’m most proud of the fact that our vineyards have been developed sustainably and are nature positive . I also predict the growth of wine tourism. What could be more glorious than to visit our green and pleasant land, while sipping its wines?” exclaims Wendy.

Swift expansion has its issues with demand and supply, and the fact that the next generation of drinkers are, well, not drinking much doesn’t help.   

Taking this challenge in her stride, Wendy joined WineGB’s board of directors in 2021.  In addition to her keen interest in promoting sustainability and exports, Wendy’s past career is an asset, her experience working with the government, from the House of Commons to DEFRA to her expertise in lobbying has helped to influence several new policies, such as freezing duty on wines, taxing still and sparkling wine at the same rate, and having vineyard workers included in the seasonal worker scheme. 

English wit and charm

With Mother Nature as your boss - a ruthless mistress, loving you one year and casting you aside the next - Wendy reminds me that you can never take yourself too seriously in this business . Humility is a much-needed characteristic found in many wine producers.  Wendy remains modest about success, the recent Decanter accolade, “…. just meant our wine was pointing in the right direction.”  

With my marketing hat on, her subtle nods of humility mixed with a charming English wit shines through her wines: her corks proclaim ‘Huzzah!’, each wine box is inscribed with ‘may your wine, like your wit, be sparkling’, and rather than the usual bio, Wendy is introduced on her website as ‘loitering hopefully in the winery, glass in hand, ready to do the hard work: sniff, sip, slurp, swoosh … but never spit’.

A mentor

As my mentor, Wendy sets a high standard.  Her humbleness most impresses me, rare in many industries today.  Without Wendy I would not be on route to a career in wine.  She pushed and prodded me to take on the WSET Diploma, helped me to pitch for my now regular wine column, introduced me to wine tourism opportunities; and advised me to specialise my interests leaning to wine tourism with a focus on English, Welsh and Australian wine.

Wendy’s passion for the never-ending stories of wine, the charismatic and generous people behind them, the ever-changing landscape of wine and its drinkers continues to inspire me.  I aspire to be as innovative, passionate, professional and most importantly, charmingly humble as Wendy as I move into the wonderful world of wine.  

Wine, in whatever form that takes, is my forever career now.  If only I’d done that oenology course all those years ago in South Australia … but hey ho, the joy is in the wine journey and the people you meet along the way, as much as the destination.

They say reinventing yourself and changing career mid-life requires homework, a supportive network and a mentor.  I’m still working on the first two.

The photo is the author's own.