14/03/2023 // Sophie Purkis Charters
Sophie Purkis Charters is the second apprentice at Saffron Grange. Already a familiar friendly face to our visitors, we thought it was high time we found out a little bit more about her and the work she is doing at the vineyard…
Tell us a bit about yourself (where you come from, where you’ve worked previously etc)
I’m originally from Australia, although I only lived there for a bit before my family moved to France – first to the Champagne region, then Burgundy. Although my dad worked in wine as a teacher and researcher, it wasn’t until my late teens that I became really interested in the subject as I started to get involved in ‘les vendages’, or harvests. I did my first Burgundian vendanges when I was 18, the month before I started at university for a BA in Music. Three years and as many harvests later, it finally dawned on me that I was happiest when I was out in the vineyard. Luckily, the domaine I’d been working at for the past few years had an opening, so I was able to join their team and take my first career step in viticulture.
What led you to work at Saffron Grange?
My partner and I wanted a change of scene and decided to look to the UK. When he quickly found work in Cambridge, I said my condition on his accepting was that I’d be able to find a job that I wanted in the same area. I admit I wasn’t very hopeful about finding work in a vineyard in that part of the world, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover Saffron Grange, even more so when I heard they were looking for an apprentice to start that very same summer!
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learnt since working at Saffron Grange?
That it’s possible to make great wine in the UK! Just kidding. On a more serious note, it’s been wonderful to discover that it’s possible to run a successful vineyard business without compromising on environmental stewardship. My previous experience was that the desire to maintain healthy soils and happy wildlife was in direct conflict with growing high-quality grapes. At Saffron Grange, I’ve learned that it is possible – and far more beneficial all round – to have high standards for both.
What jobs and tasks have you been getting involved with so far?
Starting in August last year, I have been involved in all the usual operations – canopy management in late summer, harvest (my favourite time of year!) in autumn, and now pruning. What’s great about Saffron Grange, however, is that it’s about a lot more than just the vines; our focus on regenerative viticulture means that I’ve been involved in tasks like composting and birdwatching; most recently, I’ve started a beekeeping course! Unlike my job in Burgundy, which was purely focused on manual tasks, this role allows me to have a hand in the research and analysis side of things, so work is varied and challenging. There’s never been a dull moment!
What is your favourite Saffron Grange wine?
This might come across as an attempt to plug our latest release, but our Pinot Noir Rose 2020 brings me pure joy. I’m a sucker for Pinot Noir, especially as a single variety wine, and to me this wine is a great expression of the grape – the intense strawberry and raspberry nose is complex enough that it transports me back to Burgundy! Then, on the palate, that refreshing acidity kicks in to remind me of my new home on East Anglian chalk – it’s the best of both worlds.
What are you most excited about for the future of the vineyard?
Next year we’re going to be planting a new field which will give us another 10 acres of vines (just over 20 in total). It’s a big project that I’ve had a lot of fun working on so far; there’s been a lot of research into the best-suited clones and rootstocks for our site, as well as the right varieties to plant in order to support the needs of the business. It’s really exciting from a viticultural perspective, and I’m very much looking forward to our plans turning into something our customers will enjoy in the years to come.