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A drink with… Nicola Bates

Nicola Bates has just landed her dream job as the new CEO of Wine GB, the trade association for English and Welsh wine. She talks to Decanter about the potential for the industry and all the delicious wines she has been enjoying in preparation for the role – for research purposes, of course.

Nicola Bates has spent the past five years as external affairs and strategy director at the Portman Group. It serves as the regulator for alcohol labelling, packaging and promotion in the UK, clamping down on outrageous drinks such as Fok Hing Gin, Ménage à Trois Midnight wine and Cosa Nostra Scotch whisky, which was presented in a bottle shaped like a Tommy gun. She is now looking forward to enjoying some more sophisticated drinks at Wine GB functions.

‘This is genuinely the best job I could ever think of. I go round telling people that I have this new role and everyone is excited about it. It’s the newest market in the New World. It has such an innovative, pioneering spirit.

‘I’m drinking a lot of English wine at the moment. It’s my duty! I grew up in Plymouth, so Camel Valley [in Cornwall] is close to my hometown. It is a brilliant, prestigious, leading brand, so I’ve been drinking that to celebrate, but I’m also tasting wines from all of our wonderful producers.

‘My favourite food and wine pairing would have to be English sparkling wine with fish and chips. There’s a lovely cut-through there, and it’s a proper treat.

‘I remember tasting my first Bacchus recently, from Halfpenny. I love the idea of Bacchus, because I’m a bit of a history buff. It’s an old German variety, but it feels very English in terms of the elderflower that comes through, and it’s talking to a Roman god of wine. It made me stop and realise the freshness.

‘Ortega is a very underrated grape variety. I live in East Dulwich [in south London], and I have four independent wine stores there, which is one hell of a luxury. Westwell has an Ortega, which it does by the cask, and one of them sells it, so I’ve been enjoying that too.

‘I suspect we haven’t found the hero grape yet for still wine. The sparkling wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier is doing very well, but it is still an exploratory space for still wine, especially if you look in places like Essex. It wouldn’t be a surprise if some other varieties come through. Everyone is going to have to keep adapting to climate change and making sure we are growing the right things. Seyval Blanc is gaining a lot of traction.

‘My go-to drink when I’m not drinking wine is a Negroni. Albury, a biodynamic vineyard in the Surrey Hills, produces the best vermouth I’ve ever had. It completely elevates the Negroni in my mind.

‘The wonderful thing about wine is that it brings people together. I like to eat and drink and bring people together, so this is a very exciting role.

‘I practice yoga most days. I love going to the ballet. I like reading history, politics and quality fiction.

‘I’m also an advisor to Only A Pavement Away, which recruits people who are homeless, former service personnel and ex-prisoners to join the hospitality sector. It’s a charity that unites my passions and former career as a recruitment consultant, with the hospitality sector and also homelessness, as I volunteered with Crisis Open Christmas for eight years.

‘My kids occupy the rest of my time. I have two little girls, aged seven and four.

‘If I weren’t the CEO of Wine GB, I would love to write children’s fiction, but this is the best job I could imagine.

‘The sector is at an incredibly exciting point. Everyone is so passionate about their brands, and has been so welcoming already. The quality is there, but it’s at such an early point in the journey. You’re building on something which is already successful and then taking it further and supporting that growth.

‘I am overjoyed to be a part of the next phase of growth for English and Welsh wines. I would say to all wine lovers: come and visit. From a tourism point of view, it’s at an exciting point of change, with more facilities opening, and everyone will give you a really warm welcome.

‘There is a lot of work to do. We are currently pitched at the luxury end of the market, but there will be changes over the years, and wines will be launched across all different price points.

‘My main aim is to make sure that the sector is set up and ready to deal with the next jump forward. Hopefully we will see more exports and more opportunities for people around the world to try wines from England, Wales and Scotland.

‘I’m working on such strong foundations laid down by the existing Wine GB team and the board of directors. They have so much energy and focus, and they have been very proactive in terms of representing the sector, so we are in a great place to grow from, which is incredibly reassuring.’

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