In 2006, acclaimed winemaker Dermot Sugrue planted a small vineyard at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex, and named it Storrington Priory Vineyard. Seven years later, ‘The Trouble with Dreams’ from the 2009 vintage was released, rapidly gaining critical acclaim. The staggering quality of the next two vintages earned Sugrue South Downs a cult-like following which grows to this day.
Starting with just his dog Noodles, Dermot was later joined by his wife Ana, also a winemaker, and then in 2022, by the UK’s leading boutique hotelier, Robin Hutson OBE, Chairman of The Pig hotel group.
Here’s the story...
As a young man, Dermot was compelled by music, cycling and, unlike most adolescents his age, a burning desire to produce booze. All of which he took very seriously. Such was his obsession with each that he was on the brink of becoming a professional cyclist and did end up becoming one of Britain’s most acclaimed winemakers (maybe there’s still time for the rock star bit). He started, at 15 years old, making beer. Then, about a year later, he moved on to making wine which, it’s fair to say, became quite an obsession. And thankfully so.
Fast forward a few years, and after a degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, a couple of vintages in Bordeaux where he consummated his love for both Left and Right Bank, Dermot decided to move to Sussex to study Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College, and fatally dedicate himself to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
BORDEAUX AND BEYOND
After his first visit to Bordeaux in 2000,Dermot was drawn to France and completed two vintages there,at Chateau l’Eglise-Clinet, Pomerol and Chateau Leoville-Barton, St Julien.His experiences in Bordeaux had a profound effect on him. He returned to the UK to help establish a new winery in East Anglia, however instead of heading to Adelaide as originally envisaged, he enrolled at Plumpton College and joined Nyetimber Vineyard as Assistant Winemaker. When Peter Morgan, the Head Winemaker there left (to lecture at Plumpton), Dermot was quietly advised to apply for the position. A few days later the owners, Andy & Nichola Hill, advised him to apply for the position a little less quietly… and he was appointed Head Winemaker at Nyetimber within a year of joining. In that role, over the following years, Dermot oversaw Nyetimber’s emergence as one of the world’s greatest sparkling wine producers, and as a consequence began his life-long love affair with very nearby Champagne.
In 2005 he met Harry and Pip Goringand learned of their vision of a vineyard at Wiston Estate. Wiston meant chalk, which Dermot had fallen in love with through the lens of the great Champagne growers of the Cotes de Blancs. However it was Pip Goring’s passion to create something entirely new on the South Downs that invigorated their relationship and the conversation soon led to the possibility of establishing a winery. Both Wiston Estate and Storrington Priory Vineyard were planted in 2006, as well as Mount Harry in East Sussex Mount Harry (which would become hugely important in time), and later that year Dermot resigned from his role at Nyetimber to focus on them. He did his first vintage in Champagne with Jacquinot & Fils, the family domaine of his friend Jean-Manuel Jacquinot who had been his winemaking mentor at Nyetimber, and returned to turn the Goring’s dreams, and his own - troubled though they were - into reality.
The newly-planted vines on Wiston’s exceptional south-facing chalk soils would go on to become one of the most highly awarded vineyards in the history of the UK, the new winery would go on to become the most awarded winery, and where Dermot would incidentally craft the first 12 vintages of ‘The Trouble With Dreams’, as well as quite literally hundreds of other sparkling wines for dozens of other vineyards. He didn’t look back. He didn’t have the time.
SUGRUE SOUTH DOWNS
It was a bit of divine inspiration that led Dermot on his current journey, though. The monastic order of Catholic priests at Our Lady of England Priory in Storrington West Sussex looked out one day and realised that the land they had could have potential for planting vines. Father Paul McMahon reached out to Dermot with a proposition to plant and nurture a small vineyard at the foot of the South Downs and make wine for the priests. Dermot, always having an eye on the future, spoke with Father McMahon and told him that he’d love to plant a vineyard and make wine for the priests, and perhaps in return, he could take a percentage of the grapes to create his own wine. The delighted Father McMahon agreed immediately.
The grapes were a great success, such a success that the birds flying over the vineyard devoured them all, thus ending the hopes of a 2008 vintage. All their dreams, it seemed, at that point at least, were, quite literally, away with the birds. ‘That’s the trouble with dreams’, demurred Father McMahon, but undeterred, and seeing the great potential to make an exceptional single vineyard wine, Dermot pressed on.
The first release from Sugrue South Downs was the 2009 vintage. The now greedy-bird-protected grapes were another great success. The priest’s statement had always stuck with Dermot though, and when the first bottles of wine were produced, they were named after the quiet musing of Father McMahon. ‘The Trouble with Dreams’ 2009 vintage went on sale in 2013 and rapidly gained critical acclaim.
The exceptional first three vintages of 'The Trouble With Dreams' at Storrington Priory Vineyard in 2009, 2010 & 20111 confirmed just how good a single site Dermot had planted at the Monastery. Right on the edge of the South Downs National Park, it is remarkable as two geologies collide under the vineyards planted area: a mix of sand and clay over sandstone running east-west, and a totally differnet deep clay over chalk running north-south. Both fields are wildly different in their soil composition. No wonder the vineyard always produced such balanced, round wines. However, in 2013, following the worst ever summer of 2012 - officially the coldest, wettest and darkest since 1912 - it was vital to find a new source of fruit to compliment Storrington Priory Vineyard.
In early 2013, Dermot met Alice Renton, who had planted with her late husband Tim the beautiful Mount Harry Vineyard, a 2.2 hectare site in Offham, between Plumpton and Lewes, in the South Downs in East Sussex. Planted on a pure chalk, with shallow clay topsoil and no flints, and running almost directly south east on a significant slope, the fruit had previously gone towards the production of a larger winery nearby. Realising Dermot was exceptionally keen to expand his small production, they agreed to work together and Dermot took over the management of Mount Harry almost there and then. The 2013 harvest was a remarkable success, and allowed Dermot to craft the first release of Cuvee Dr Brendan O'Regan, a wine described by Hugh Johnson as "Honestly, England's best", and in 2014 the first ZODO, two highly influential wines produced in very limited quantities.
In 2021 Ana, following her role as Winemaking Lecturer at Plumpton, joined Dermot in the business full-time and Sugrue South Downs immediately matured into a much more grown-up operation. With 10 vintages at Mount Harry (now known as their "Grand Cru"), and 14 at Storrington under their belts, the opportunity to lease Coldharbour Vineyard in West Sussex emerged in late 2022, at the same time that Robin Hutson invested in Dermot & Ana...
Coldharbour Vineyard - a 7.35 hectare site in West Sussex - was planted in 2005 and is owned by the Hunt family. Meticulously tidy and impeccably managed, the vines run north-south in an extraordinary bowl-like amphitheatre, with Liesa and Geoff - who Dermot fromerly worked with at Nyetimber twenty years earlier - taking care of this beautiful vineyard since 2011. In fact, Dermot had made every single sparkling wine from this site since 2011, gaining intimate knowledge of the site and the remarkable quality it has. So far, wines from this site made by Dermot have won trophies for Best Rose (twice), Best Cuvee and Best Blanc de Blancs at the Wine GB Awards. Rapidly becoming Sugrue's second "Grand Cru"...
In May 2023, Sugrue South Downs made a little piece of history by buying their first vineyard - Bee Tree Vineyard near Wivelsfield Green in East Sussex. This small vineyard was planted on clay and lower greensand soils in 2015, and comprises mostly Pinot Noir. Its a very warm site, extremely well protected from wind and in an idyllic location where all you can here is birdsong... hence why Sugrue are establishing their winery there. It's a very special place, and we're very excited about what we can make there.
Click here to learn more about our vineyards.
In 2020 Ana moved to the UK to join the wine division at Plumpton College, initially covering Sarah Midgley’s maternity leave as their winemaker. She was born in Zagreb, Croatia a notable wine making region. Having grown up surrounded by wine, it didn’t take much to decide that that was her calling and she was soon travelling the world as an expert, independent wine maker. Ana began in Peru and from there, she worked in wineries in New Zealand, Napa, Germany and ended up, before answering the Plumpton call, in Austria.
Her skills as a winemaker led her to teaching at Plumpton college during challenging Covid time. She became Sugrue South Downs’ first employee in 2021 as a fellow winemaker and sales director.
ROBIN HUTSON OBE
The UK’s leading boutique hotelier, Robin Hutson, Chairman of the renowned The Pig group of hotels and restaurants, decided after tasting Sugrue that it would be a perfect fit for to serve in his restaurants. Soon after that, Dermot and Ana realised that Robin would be the perfect fit for Sugrue South Downs and he came on board as an investor in 2022.
NOODLES AND TARA
Noodles was a constant at Dermot’s side during the early years. She such an important part of the story, She is actually immortalised on the Sugrue crest of our identity. Sadly, Noodles passed away in 2020 but now Tara, Ana and Dermot’s beautiful Lurcher cross, is showing a healthy interest in the vineyards.