Meet the Owner of Tyneside’s First Urban Winery
Elise Lane owns Laneberg Winery in Gateshead
What is The Winery by Laneberg Wine?
Tyneside’s first urban winery. This means we make wine from fresh grapes, which we buy from vineyards (as opposed to growing our own), here in the urban setting of Gateshead.
What inspired you to set up the business?
I studied chemistry at Oxford University, and one night I went along to a ‘chemistry of wine making’ evening where we were poured different wines to smell and taste, followed by the chemical components that went into each wine. It was amazing to be able to identify the individual components within the overall bouquet of the wine.
As a chemist, this really sparked my interest. I moved down to London for work, but I regularly went to wine tasting evenings and eventually gained a number of qualifications in wine tasting. I’d struggled to find a career which I could apply my chemistry to, and then I suddenly realised that wine making was the way forward – it’s art, science, problem-solving and so much more, all rolled into one.
After my first son was born, I studied for a graduate diploma in viticulture and oenology at Plumpton College in Sussex, and worked there as an assistant winemaker. This course, along with the expert guidance of Sarah Midgley, the head winemaker, gave me the confidence to believe that I could actually set up my own business and make my own wine. I was inspired by other urban wineries that I’d seen and heard about in London, New York and Australia and decided if we could get quality grapes delivered up north, then there was no reason why we shouldn’t try and give the business a go.
Why did you choose to set up the winery in the North East?
I come from the North East originally, having grown up in Kingston Park and Blaydon, and I went to school at Gosforth High. I moved away for university, and then to London for work. About three years ago we were visiting my parents and sister, when my husband, Nick, suggested it might be nice to be nearer to my family, and perhaps we should think about moving up north. So whilst I was pregnant with our second son, we moved back to Newcastle.
What was it like to leave the capital and embark on a new adventure?
When I was in London, I was an Assistant Director at one of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms, PWC. I mainly worked on ensuring big government contracts were financially and commercially sound – so wine making was a massive change, but running a business wasn’t such a big change, it’s just my own money nowadays! I also wanted to spend less time away from my children – I wanted to have a career that was on my own terms.
I was strongly involved in promoting women’s rights in London, believing that women shouldn’t be overlooked for promotion because they’d taken a break to have children. When I left, I did feel I was letting the side down a little bit, but I just thought, “This is not what I want to do with my life”. I wanted to do something exciting and different. I want to set up a business that my children can be proud of.
In 2018 you produced your first vintage. Talk us through the process.
We thought we might use European grapes at first, but last year’s crop in the South of England was so fabulous that we had to go English! There’s one crop of grapes per year in the autumn, so all grape processing happens then.
In September last year I heard about a vineyard in Leicestershire which was selling some Bacchus grapes, which are one of the best varieties for making still wine in England. I met the vineyard owner and agreed a price with him and the six grapes were delivered up to Gateshead on trucks.
They then get loaded into the crusher and de-stemmer, and are pumped into the press through hoses. The free-running juice drains off into the press tray, and then more juice is pressed out of the skins. The juice is pumped into a tank and left overnight to separate before yeast is added to the clear juice to begin fermentation, which takes between 10–14 days.
Over a three-month period the wines are ‘racked’ (moved to another tank) to leave behind the yeast lees, which slowly get clearer and clearer. This is a choice to be made in wine making – you can add things to make this process happen quicker, or you can filter it. We choose to use minimal intervention techniques, although it’s eventually filtered before it’s bottled to ensure sterility.
Each time we’re processing grapes, I have to assemble a team – this means friends and family get involved and last year Nick took a couple of months off work to look after our children.
He would help out on wine-making days, while my mum babysat, and my dad comes down to help me with the bottling. This year the labels were all designed by me, and were stuck on by hand. It was so amazing to see those wines in bottles. And it was extra satisfying to discover that they tasted so great.
What kind of wines do you produce?
We produce five wines – three are bottled and for sale, two more are in the pipeline. We have our 'First Crush Rosé', which is a dry wine with red fruit flavours that’s very drinkable and refreshing. The Bacchus 2018 is bursting with elderflower aromas alongside apple and citrus flavours (it's a bit like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in style). And finally, the Solaris 2018 is very unusual. It has a little sweetness from the stone-fruit flavours, and then a lovely zing at the end – I think it’s very moreish. The two wines still in the tank are Pinot Grigio and Seyval Blanc – so watch this space.
Where do you see Laneberg Wine in 10 years time?
Producing high quality wines to suit all tastes. I’d like to make the Winery a visitor attraction, with wine experience days, tastings and a room for functions and events. I want to make it somewhere where the people of the North East are excited to visit, and I want to make people proud that we make wines here in Gateshead.
Have you got any exciting plans in the pipeline?
This year is just about getting known, and making a plan for expansion next year. I also have so many ideas for new wines – I want to make some fizz and I hope 2019 will see our first red wines being made.
When you’re not working at the Winery, what are your favourite things to do in the North East?
Having lived in London for so long, I’m still blown away by the beautiful countryside and coastline on our doorstep. My absolute favourite thing to do is take my two boys and husband somewhere on a walk – there’s so much to discover.
What’s your all-time favourite wine?
Wine is all about where you are and who you’re with. I’ve been lucky enough to try lots of expensive and famous wines, but my best ‘wine memory’ comes from sharing a surprisingly exceptional wine with my husband whilst on our honeymoon in France. We found a bottle for six euros at the ‘cellar door shop’ of a famous producer in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine du Pegau (their best wines were on sale for a hundred euros). They called the bottle we picked up their ‘barbecue wine’, which was made with grapes that aren’t actually allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, so it’s called Vin du Table – we were definitely inspired by this ‘rule breaking’.