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English wine trade mourns loss of ‘inspirational’ Mike Roberts MBE

Mike Roberts MBE, a pioneer of English wine and co-founder of one of the country's best-known estates, Ridgeview, has died.

Mike Roberts MBE, 1943-2014. Image credit: Ridgeview

Roberts’ death was announced by his family on Friday (14 November), prompting a series of tributes from across the trade.

Alongside his role at Ridgeview in East Sussex, Roberts was also chairman of English Wine Producers, the trade body responsible for promoting the sector.

‘As some of you are aware, he had been ill for a period of time but this still comes as an almighty shock to all of us,’ said the Roberts family. ‘We’ll miss him massively.’

Julia Trustram Eve, head of marketing for EWP, said, ‘He was a real figurehead and respected ambassador for the UK wine industry and of course his own beloved Ridgeview. Few will realise just how much time he gave to the role of chairman.’

Since co-founding Ridgeview with his wife in 1994, Roberts had seen the English and Welsh wine industries rise from obscurity to become serious contenders for trophies and retail space.

Vineyard area has doubled in seven years and 500ha have been planted in the past two years alone, according to EWP, which said 4.5m bottles-worth of wine was produced from the 2013 harvest.

Ridgeview has been among several English wineries to have won top industry awards for sparkling wines in particular in the last decade.

In 2010, Ridgeview’s Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2006 beat several top Champagne houses to win the International Trophy for sparkling wine priced above £10 in the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA). In the 2014 DWWA, Ridgeview scooped five medals, including three silver and two bronze.

‘Mike Roberts was a true inspiration,’ said Julia Stafford, founder of the Wine Pantry, an award-winning English wine-only retailer in London. ‘We have lost a great man whose legacy will continue to shape and influence the industry.’

Bob Lindo, a former Royal Air Force pilot who set up Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall in 1989, said he first met Mike Roberts while waiting for a bus to the Vinitech show in Bordeaux in 1994.

‘I don’t think Mike had planted at that time, but he was very single minded and determined that he would make only sparkling wine, using only Champagne varieties.’

‘Without Mike Roberts, there would have been no EWP. Mike was the driving force in conjunction with Julia Trustram Eve and together they drove the profile of English wine into the mainstream.’

He added, ‘he had a good sense of humour, too, and we chuckled at each other across the table on many occasions. I will miss him as a friend, but also as a colleague, because in what has been a tiny industry, we all worked together as friends.’ Lindo also paid tribute to Roberts as a ‘loving family man’.

Alongside his wife, Christine, Roberts leaves behind his son Simon and daughter Tamara, as well as daughter-in-law Mardi and son-in-law Simon.

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Written by Chris Mercer

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