How did an ex-hairdresser became a UK wine pioneer?

Douglas Blyde

Rays after rain make bulbous splashes on the Chardonnay vines sparkle. In the shadow of the South Downs I hear how a former hairdresser turned the hobby of green-fingered parents into a flag waver.

Under Sam Linter’s direction, Bolney’s fizz was England’s first to soothe top flyers on British Airways, while her Pinot Gris became a still English pioneer when it was served at Wimbledon.

The story started in 1972 when, wanting to recreate wines tried in Germany closer to home, Linter’s father turned a chicken farm into a vineyard.

She recalls tending vines amid strawberries, sweetcorn and marrows in their ‘market garden’ — a cure to the bullying she endured at school. ‘Childhood was a mix of slave labour and utter freedom!’

Linter spent a decade as a hairdresser, later going on to teach hairdressing. On becoming a mother-of-two, she yearned to continue work, this time in the family fold. She studied winemaking at nearby Plumpton College. ‘In 1995, it was still early days for English wine and our five acres.’

In the mint green offices, a map of the USA pinpoints 16 states buying Bolney, including New York, Illinois and Louisiana. ‘Americans love our fresh, dry fizz.’ Tokyo, which Linter visited in May, does too. ‘Japanese somms gave us a great reception.’

But Linter’s favourite wine bears no bubbles. ‘I was told we’d never make good red in England. But I like challenges.’ She shares a TV clip from 2010, when her lithe Pinot Noir conquered Burgundy in a blind tasting.

As stainless steel tanks are unwrapped in the winery, Linter declares her aim to expand production to 300,000 bottles yearly. ‘From making wines no one wanted, to people knocking on our door, I’ve seen the English wine industry pull itself up in 25 years.’