Inspirational Wine Stories

When it comes to blending wine with tourism, Beth and Linda, and Micaela and Sue – two sets of couples living in two very different regions (Herefordshire in England and the Loire Valley in France), have more in common than one might think. While their backgrounds and focus may differ, all four share a strong entrepreneurial spirit paired with a sense of adventure. Further Afield recently caught up with the hosts and learned more about their fantastic properties and projects, as well as their relationships with wine.

New Frontiers

For Beth Derbyshire, co-owner of Furnace Projects and the super stylish Blackbird Barn along with her partner Linda, the decision to enter the world of wine making was a way of honouring family. “My late father Hugh planted the vineyard around seven years ago, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I took it on as a legacy to Hugh. It was certainly a surprising new venture for me and I am on a steep learning curve, but it’s a very enjoyable business to be in, and I work with terrific people”, she says. Furnace Projects, alongside wine and a beautiful place to stay, has a strong creative arts focus, reflective of both owner’s backgrounds – Beth as a lecturer in The Arts and Linda as Creative Director at Selfridges.

Micaela Frow-Hunt, who co-owns the lovely La Grande Maison and La Petite Maison in the Loire Valley with her wife Sue, explains their path toward working in wine tourism. “We both love simply sharing a bottle of good wine with good company. For Sue that triggered a curiosity for growing grapes, she enrolled in the Wine Studies course at Plumpton College. My passion for wine grew from a technical appreciation during my time working in hotels and restaurants into an exciting purpose for wine based travel.”

Since opening La Grande Maison (above), their lives have unfolded in exciting and unexpected ways. Micaela elaborates. “Our plan was to make our own wine from our own vines in France and then we found and fell in love with La Grande Maison (as everyone does).” Their charming property offers guests accommodation and meals, expertly paired with the very best local wines. Now 13 years in, their Loire Wine Tours are a highly sought after ticket. Guests rave about the experiences which are both luxurious and informative.

While the Loire Valley is firmly established in the wine world, Beth and Linda are forging a new path. Interest in English wine has been on the rise for years, something Beth has noticed. “I am seeing an increase in the mention of Herefordshire wine and certainly seeing it on menus in London and elsewhere on a regular basis.” Introducing new concepts is something La Grande Maison’s owners also have experience with. Micaela recalls the early days. “When we first arrived in 2004 wine tourism was relatively unheard of and we felt like we were pioneers in the area. Today “oenotourism” as it is known in France has grown rapidly.”

Welcome & Success

Back at Blackbird Barn (above), the couples’ own line of still and sparkling wine under their Furnace Projects brand(link) is being embraced. Reactions, have been enthusiastic; “People in the industry have been very welcoming and supportive which we are very grateful for some of our recent wines were rated at 7/8 out of 10 in a recent tasting with an industry professional,” Beth says.

In a region as seemingly traditional as the Loire, it is wonderful to discover Micaela and Sue have been supported similarly. “From the outset, our local vignerons (winemakers) have always given us a warm welcome. They quickly realised we share similar levels of wine interest and were keen to share their expertise and the fruits of their hard labour!”

Set for the Future

What the future holds for wine depends on who you ask, of course. Both agree a modern approach, not only in the production of wine, but the selling of it is key. Beth shares her goals. “I am really interested to develop new and unexpected wines. I am very excited for the future of Furnace Projects as we are creating a brand that not only is about English wine but a venture that explores the rural though creative collaborations with people.”

For Micaela the future is organic. “We choose to support the organic growers, and the health of the soil, the health of the grape growers, and the health of the wine drinkers.” They also have an amazing array of tours available for 2018.

Aside from their individual goals and expectations, both couples share one thing; a desire to introduce new wines and ways to enjoy that wine along with providing incredible hospitality in their beautiful places to stay.


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