So, today is International Women’s Day. Now whether that means it’s a day for women around the world or a day for international women, I’m not quite sure, but either way I reckon my mate, Dawn, applies, and I’d love to share her story with you.
The hair stylist extraordinaire turned welder turned biodynamic winemaker, it’s a great tale of never letting yourself be pigeon holed, setting a goal (or many of them in Dawn’s case), and going for it. One of the best quotes I’ve ever seen is “Don’t Give Up Your Day Dream”, and this amazing woman is a testament to that.
Ladies and gents, girls and boys, I give you, in her own words, the brilliant Dawn Jones-Cooper…
“Our scene opens in 1993, where having moved to London the year before, and having no desire to take the normal route of “Large London Pad = Massive Mortgage”, my husband and I decided of all things, to live afloat.
Project One – Let’s go rebuild a boat then!
We began with the purchase for scrap value of what was left of, a 22 metre long, 5 metre wide 1931 Humber Keel Sailing Barge named “Gainsborough Trader”, which also just happened to be a vessel of special historic significance, as one of the few remaining “Dunkirk Little Ships” that were called to duty to rescue Allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk during WWII, and so worthy of rescue itself.
Together we spent the next 10 years rebuilding her into what she became, a floating three bed home in Central London moored just opposite Canary Wharf. We were kept busy too with the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, both in terms of the memorial return trips aboard the vessels to Dunkirk, and getting volunteered to run the charity shop.
Owning a steel boat led me to…
Project Two – I am going to be a welder as well
After flipping a coin and losing I did my first adult course, a 2 year evening course in welding and fabrication.
We spent 16 years aboard Gainsborough Trader, with my husband working in Finance and I was and still am a West End Hairdresser. Over time, however, we began to ponder how best to secure a more permanent mooring and/or some land that we could just own.
The search for the next Project began….
We set out with the intention of a half acre plot, to grow some vegetables, have chickens and slow life’s pace (ahem). This search wasn’t just in the UK but throughout Europe as well.
We finally found our place in France and it ticked all the boxes. It was near to Bordeaux, however instead of just a half acre it was more than 12 acres, with what was left standing of a 17th Century building complete with attached winery buildings in various states of ruin, and an old but working vineyard.
My parents were somewhat shocked when I previously told them about the wreck of a boat that we “invested” in in 1993, so you can imagine their surprise when I told them we’d bought a wreck of a Château and a vineyard too. I did not mention the occasional flooding from the Dordogne!
Looking at the vineyard and wondering what to do, my husband’s initial thoughts were to rip out the vines and make a nice off-road motorcycle track (for him) or really scale up on the vegetables and chickens!
But the romance of wine brought a mad idea to my mind, that “cutting hair, cutting vines, must be similar, just think how good that canopy would look with a good short back and sides.”
So with my romantic wine idea firmly in my sights…
Project Three – l am going to be a winemaker
Working as a hairdresser for 26 years in St. James’s has its upsides. Just like any other village, you tend to know everyone. I asked a friend of mine, who just so happened to be the head of Berry Brothers & Rudd wine school, if there was a short course I could do. Her reply was just two words “Plumpton” and “College”.
I contacted the college and attended their next open day, by the end of which I had signed up for a full-time degree in Viticulture and Oenology. It was on a part time basis, one day a week for the next four years, whilst at the same time doing an evening course in wine tasting/degustation at the WSET school in Bermondsey. So began…
Project Three “A” – I am going to taste wines and know what they are without looking at the label
…whilst at the same time working full time in the West End and popping off to France once every month to stare at what we had acquired.
Other little “Projects” along the way, just to keep nice and busy included:
- I am going to do the London Marathon
- I am going to pass my motorcycle test
- I thought I might do a course in Stained Glass
- We are both doing the RYA skippers course
But keeping my mind fixed on winemaking, the more I learned at college the more I realised what a neglected vineyard we had, so made the decision at the end of 2007 to rip out all the vines and start all over again.
Many of my projects at college (purely by fluke) happened to be on Organic and Biodynamic methods, so like any student I studied them…er…studiously! I deciding that these were the methods I would like to follow.
The college teachings emphasised the need to find a niche in the market, and this led to my decision on…
Project Three “B” – I am going to do it differently to almost everybody else
Namely to plant only white grapes, given there are already 12,000 producers of red in Bordeaux.
After ripping out all the old vines and deep ploughing, we planted barley (a great soil cleanser) and ploughed it back into the land, whilst adding copious amounts of Biodynamic treatments and rich compost which over a two year period saw the micro-biological life returning to the soil.
We are fastidious about grape selection for pressing and ultimately our wines, only pressing to a very gentle pressure to release just the free run juices. The juice is then let to rest while the wild yeasts in our winery perform their magic, under a strict temperature controlled fermentation, ensuring the fruit esters remain in our wines.
These hand crafted, fruit driven wines are a result of the passion and dedication we put into our vineyard and the fruit. In order to make good wine, first you need good grapes!!
Along the way there have been challenges and hurdles, as there should be, and those challenges remain as my wine life evolves. However, for me, it makes life more valuable to simply crack on and deal with these, and when you do get over the hurdles, it’s much more rewarding on a personal level.
In the wine business (as in lots of others too) sometimes people tell me just “ how lucky” I am. My response is usually, “ funny that, the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get”.
Our first vintage was in 2012 was aptly called “C’est n’pas ma faute” meaning “It’s not my fault”, which we used for a bit of a party and gave away to friends.
In 2013 there was a bump in the road, our first proper vintage of Nobody’s Perfect, in which we lost 70% of the fruit on the vines in a 25 minute hail storm, with stones the size of golf balls…in July.
In 2014 we bounced back, gathering two awards at the Decanter world wine awards.
Our 2015 vintage raised the bar for us and started to get the journalists writing about us in earnest.
In 2016 there was another bump in the road, but our sparkling wine shone through, but ah….yes, that’s…
Project Three “C” – I am going to make sparkling wine in the traditional method, all in house, because very few others do
…which is being released later this year.
In 2017, we lost 80% of the fruit to two overnight frosts, however the remaining 20% has been called ‘a shining light in a difficult Bordeaux vintage’, and is one of the wines available at the restaurant (67 Pall Mall) by the glass.
Our 2018 vintage has been our best for quality and quantity so far, and the other 7 in our range will be released shortly.
We were recently voted in the top 11 Organic wines by the Independent recently and we excited to where our journey will take us.
So whats next on the project list, you may well ask?
There’s the house to finish so that Project “Holiday College” can be launched, and then there’s Project “lets build a log treehouse by the river just for the fun of it”.
Then there’s the mystery project that my husband (who used to refer to himself as the silent partner in the wine business, but has now changed that to the “Silenced Partner”) has challenged me to, codenamed Project “The Unobtainable Barrel”.
But shhhh. It’s a secret.”