When ex-RAF pilot Bob Lindo and his wife Annie planted their first eight thousand vines in 1989, they never dreamed of the phenomenal success they would achieve within 2 decades. They had bought their farm in the heart of the Cornish countryside several years earlier, seeking a change from service life and the perfect place to bring up their young family, and initially farmed sheep and cattle. Each summer they watched the grass turn brown on the sun-drenched slopes of the Camel Valley, and wondered if vines might enjoy such an aspect.
Bob ‘did a vintage' in Germany and both took viticulture courses and read every vine and wine book they could find. They built a winery and equipped it with the finest equipment they could afford. Annie is the first to admit the early years weren't easy: ‘We practically lived in the vineyard, doing all the work by hand, and when it came to harvest time it was just us and a few friends for picking, then Bob would stay up all night crushing the grapes. But we loved it, always striving for perfection in the vineyard and the winery, and then we won a medal in the national English Wine competition for our first wine, so we knew we were doing something right.'
More awards followed over the years, with Camel Valley wines consistently winning medals at both national and international level. In 2002 Bob and Annie won the Waitrose Drinks Producer of the Year Award, and the following year the South West Business Challenge award for Creating Wealth in the Rural Community. Bob continued as Winemaker, but now had a small team of full time staff to help in the vineyard and a new state of the art winery, and had started making Cornwall's first Traditional Method sparkling wine as well as still wines. His finest moment came in 2005 with an International Wine Challenge Gold Medal for Camel Valley ‘Cornwall' sparkling wine. ‘I was so proud to have won this, as our wine was up against the finest wines in the whole world and was the only gold medal awarded to a non-Champenoise wine. I really felt that I had set the standard for generations to come.'
And now the second generation winemaker is hard at work at Camel Valley. Sam Lindo, a maths graduate who had seemed destined for a career in the city, instead decided to make his life in Cornwall and returned to the family farm eight years ago. He has now taken over as Winemaker, with a little help from Dad now and again, and in 2007 won ‘UK Winemaker of the Year Award, as well as the Wine of the Year Trophy, and Sparkling Wine Trophy in the UK Vineyards annual competition for English wines judged solely by Masters of Wine.' Sam retained the coveted ‘Vintners Trophy' for the best UK English sparkling wine and another 3 Trophies in 2008.
However, the best was still to come and in 2009 Sam Lindo won the Trophy and a Gold Medal in the International Wine Challenge for Camel Valley Bacchus. Simultaneously, he won a Gold Medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards for Camel valley Sparkling ‘Cornwall' Pinot Noir. Later in the same year, Sam won the English wine Producers Trophy and the Waitrose Trophy.
Said Bob: ‘I'd like to say I taught him everything he knows, but that wouldn't be true! Like me he has a huge capacity for hard work, and is always up for trying something new. Sam worked at a top winery in New Zealand a couple of years ago and brought back a lot of what he learned there, for example the importance of cool temperatures for fermentation - he even installed his own system. We work well together as a team and are always bouncing ideas off each other.'
Added Bob, ‘When Sam came second in the World Sparkling Wine Championships to Bollinger in Italy in 2009, I really did take my hat off to him'. However, when he won the Trophy for ‘Best International Traditional Method Sparkling Wine' in 2010 in Verona, ahead of Bollinger and Roederer, I nearly ate it!
So what is the secret of Camel Valley's success? Obviously the Lindos were fortunate to have started their wine business at a time when there was a resurgence of interest in local food and drink, but that's only part of the story. ‘Our wine is sold at Rick Stein's and throughout Cornwall, but it also goes a lot further afield,' said Bob. ‘For example, we supply Waitrose nationally, Fortnum's and Hakkasan in London, and even export to Japan. You'd be surprised how many customers say they first tried a glass of our wine at Tate Modern in London and felt they just had to come and visit the vineyard. I think making a top quality product is the secret of our success.'
Sam thinks it isn't too difficult to sell an individual bottle of English wine on curiosity value alone, ‘But when customers return time and again to buy our wine, or come to buy a case because they had it in a restaurant the previous night and loved it - that's when you know you're doing something right.'
In 2006 Cornwall Tourist Board awarded Bob an award for outstanding services to tourism in Cornwall, and the vineyard won Gold for Cornish Distinctiveness three times. This year Camel Valley has already won nine awards in the International Wine Challenge, International Wine and Spirit Competition and Decanter Awards. 2008 wine success was crowned with a Cornwall Tourism Gold Medal for ‘Small Visitor Attraction of the Year'. But the Lindo family - which also includes Esther, a teacher who helps out at the vineyard at busy times - have no plans to rest on their laurels. You will often find Sam checking his fermentations on his day off, or Bob and Annie out in the vineyard at all hours, because they know that constant attention to detail is the key to the top quality wines that are behind their success.