A Meet the Winemaker – Minerva Wine Skip to content


Meet the Winemaker

Meet The Wine Maker


meet emma rice, the uk's sparkling wine queen

Even with good soil and aspect, the right climate, a good growing season, fair harvest - quality wine needs something more. A strong family and the determination and resilience of the team is essential, but even with all the love that is poured into every aspect of production… that still isn’t enough for the best of premium wines.

So for Minerva’s first vintage we brought in the Red Arrow stunt pilot of British sparkling wine makers - I would like to warmly introduce you all to Emma Rice.

For those of you who don’t already know, Emma is actually arguably the best Sparkling Winemaker globally, winning the most prestigious international awards. She is a true pioneer and the most decorated English Sparkling Winemaker to break into the US market.

To get to know her better, I want to share a piece written by the much celebrated Jancis Robinson.

Every year WineGB, the generic body representing producers, gives out awards for the best wines, and this year’s were announced last month. The supreme champion was a 2014 sparkling wine from Hattingley Valley in Hampshire, run by 45-year-old Emma Rice.

She’s been in that position for 12 years and now, most years, makes between 300,000 and 500,000 bottles of sparkling and still wine, depending on the UK’s exceedingly variable weather. But when she was hired she had hardly any relevant experience. To be fair, not that many people did have much experience of making fine English wine in 2008.

It was in Sussex in 1995 the wine flame was lit for Rice. She had been working part-time for neighbour and family friend Barry Phillips at his particularly wine-focused White Horse at Chilgrove since she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl. It was a dinner to celebrate his 25 years there – attended, as it happens, by me, wine author Hugh Johnson and the late Michael Broadbent of Christie’s – that was the turning point. She had graduated from serving sandwiches in the pub to the restaurant section and her job that night included pouring the aperitif, a double magnum of Krug 1979. Phillips told her that if any was left, she could sample it. She made very sure that it was she who emptied the bottle, and she was blown away.

The result was that she did not pursue her HND (Higher National Diploma) studies in catering management, and instead went to work for the quirky wine retailer Oddbins, worked in a vineyard in New Zealand and was then taken on as personal assistant (the fate predicted for her by Barry Phillips) to the late Hilary Gibbs of Domaine Direct, a specialist UK burgundy importer. In 2000 she successfully applied to be managing editor of Hugh Johnson’s annual Pocket Wine Book for publishers Mitchell Beazley. Hugh remembers fondly her ‘ever-smiling face’ in their Canary Wharf offices and describes her today as ‘one of our First Division winemakers, and a great ambassador for the whole exciting business’.

While editing Johnson’s hugely popular book (12 million copies sold worldwide) she noticed that Plumpton College in Sussex was offering courses in winemaking and set off there in 2003. Undeterred by the fact that she had failed science at school, she graduated in 2006 with a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology.

He had asked the men who planted his vines if they knew anyone he might take on to help design the winery and make the wine. They had been at Plumpton with Emma and knew she was then at a loose end. She admits that, although at that stage Simon Robinson intended to focus, like all serious English wine producers at the time, on sparkling wine, she had very little relevant experience. But she also acknowledges what a rare opportunity she was given. Very few winemakers get to design their own wineries from scratch. Even fewer are involved in designing the labels…

Jancis Robinson was voted the world’s most influential wine critic in polls in the US, France and internationally in 2018. Although she views herself more as a wine writer rather than a wine critic.

This has been condensed, for the full article please click here.

meet the experts

Opportunities for Founders

Whilst unfortunately Emma won't be in the area for our launch event in the new year (ADD LINK see last weeks newsletter), we are making sure that members of our founding family get the rare chance to meet our resident experts in person. These kinds of meetings are often the unexpected spark or opportunity that can launch a lifelong enthusiasm or vocation (just as for Emma herself). Who knows - this might be one of your own family, or even you!

We are looking forward immensely to hosting the first of many exclusive founders-only events next year at the Minerva vineyard near Bath. Along with unique 'Vine Dining' experiences, tasting days and community gatherings, the chance to meet and hear Emma speak on winemaking next year will be a particularly special occasion. The final plans for this are still in the making, so we will be in touch with founders when we have a date!