Close to a year ago, I met Gemma and Charlie Ruigrok and their two sons Ruben (4) and Oliver (3), who - at the time - were in the middle of rebranding and producing their new sparkling Elderflower wine.
The Ruigrok's are the masters, brains and the family behind Witham's (formerly Witham Wines) and artisan winery based in South Witham. A dedicated family whose passion for producing delicious wine with local elderflower was instantly infectious and it was so clear how much the pair truly love what they do.
In 2018, Witham's released a new product to their lineup and unveiled their brand new branding by local designer Rutland Creative and calligrapher Inviting Writing. A sparkling elderflower infusion, an alcoholic beverage best served over ice - an alternative to lager or cider.
Now 2019, the finale to the big rebrand has been released and the all-new Witham's Sparkling Elderflower Wine is here! A refreshing and light wine using Lincolnshire Elderflower and the Trebbiano grape. It's the perfect summer drink to enjoy with your friends whilst soaking up the English sunshine.
I interviewed Charlie and Gemma to find out more about how Witham's started, why they love Lincolnshire Elderflower, how they manage a business and a family, their ambassadors, the future and much, much more!
Take a read...
Thanks for meeting with me to discuss the launch of your new products and to chat more about Witham’s as a local brand. When did you first decide to enter into the world of wine and how was Witham’s born?
Gemma: Witham’s (or Witham Wines as previously known) began years ago, before marriage and children when we were living in Nottingham brewing our own beers and wines. Providing both for our DIY Wedding, and the rave reviews we received so we decided to see if we could make something that people would buy. We spent three years testing our Elderflower Wine and Presse, learning about elderflower and fermentation - and other complicated science bits! Finally, when we were having our second baby, we decided to put my maternity leave to good use and see if we could establish a business- which we did! And here we are two years later, with a successful product, and some amazing people behind us, supporting us every step of the way.
Both of your products are centred around Lincolnshire Elderflower. Why Elderflower?
Charlie: Gemma LOVES elderflower, it’s what she drank on our wedding day when our pregnancy was still in the early stages and no one knew! Coupled with moving to our ‘forever home’ in Lincolnshire which had HUGE elderflower trees in the garden, we felt it was fate! We also made Plum Wine, Elderberry Wine, and Rhubarb wine, but the Elderflower everyone seemed to love, and so we decided to take that product to market first. Gemma: Elderflowers are also abundant where we live, over our testing years we have grown our trees with us and sought our ‘secret spots’ away from roads and intensively farmed fields (microbiological reasons).
The new Witham’s Sparkling Elderflower Wine has just hit the shelves! It’s been months in the making and has a completely new look and taste from the original. Please tell us more… Charlie: Where to start… It is made in the Traditional Method, and so takes about a year for us to produce. We hand make each element, such as picking, bottling, riddling and disgorging, it’s definitely a labour of love, but we feel that the difference it makes to the taste is phenomenal.
Gemma: Having market tested in 2017, we knew we were onto something, so for our 2018 Wine we decided to go big, and upscale production, which meant we could source our grapes direct from the Vineyards. Our 2018 grape has come from Reggio Emilia in Italy, a white grape juice with predominantly a Trebbiano Grape, it is very light and refreshing, with aromas of ripe peach and blossom.
Charlie: Our label redesign was to fall in-line with our rebrand. We wanted a clean, crisp and modern that reflected our client base and that would stand out on the shelves. We pride ourselves on hand producing all our products, and finding a redesign that reflected that was key.
Gemma: Keeping batch and bottle numbers to us was so important, as it reminds all our customers that it is Charlie and I whom loving make this and shows that we really are a family brand.
The new design of the branding and the bottle ended up being quite the collaboration between local creatives and your three brand ambassadors. Please tell us more about the process and how you came to the final design and who else had input into creating the new and improved look! Gemma: Charlie and I are so lucky to have three fantastic Ambassadors behind us, championing what we do; Simon Spooner (Knife, Fork and Spooner) for all our culinary needs, Jess Lamb ( WSET Level 3) as our support with all things Wine and Charlie Pallett (The Rutland Blogger & Rutland Creative) who supports all our design needs, however, we added a 4th for our bottle design Victoria Daws (Inviting Writing) who handwrote our ‘W’ which helped lead the way to our new design. Charlie: For months Gemma and I knew we needed to modernise our design, that we loved elements such as the batch and bottle number, the Winemakers signature etc, but that the rest didn’t match what we stand for, handcrafted, clean products. We kept an eye on all local designers to see what they were up to, and then we found Charlie. She understood our needs straight away! When she came over with design ideas, and we could see she was secretly smug, she showed us Victoria’s ‘W’ and we loved it, and we centred the rest of the design work around it!
Gemma: The ‘W’ represents not only Witham’s, but also a River as we are based at the source of the River Witham which runs through Lincolnshire.
Charlie: Jess Lamb supported us with ensuring that our Wine description was accurate and would support the most discerning of Wine Buyers requirements! She is fab, and so knowledgeable!
But it’s not all about wine... Last year, you released the Witham’s Sparkling Elderflower Infusion. Please tell us more about this beverage and what makes it different?
Gemma: Our Infusion is more of an ‘everyday’ drink, an alternative to beer and cider. We created it as a low-alcohol, quality product for the growing market of people looking for low-alcohol alternatives.
Charlie: We make it using Elderflowers and Spring Water (Swithland Spring in Leicestershire), and then we add in a few other ingredients. When you taste it, you can tell how true to the natural elderflower flavour it is, without a sticky, sugary residue like with so many other drinks.
Gemma: We made it gluten free and vegan (although not certified) too as we have found that this is a growing area for people when buying handcrafted products.
As a family-of-four, the business and the winery are all ran between yourselves with a real hands-on and approach with clear dedication. I loved being at the winery and seeing how interested both Ruben (4) and Oliver (3) are in the brand you’ve created; they couldn’t wait to get stuck in! How do you balance work and family life?
Gemma: I really don’t know! But somehow we manage! Family time is imperative to us, and so we maximise our opportunities to play and be together. Charlie and I constantly communicate with each other, to make sure the house and business run smoothly, and so far it has worked- our business may not have grown as quickly as we prioritise our children over the business, but we are happy, and being able to have the schools holidays with Ruben, pick him up from school, drop him off etc and having Oliver at home with me is priceless.
Charlie: We predominantly work at night, when our children are sleeping, and it works best for us this way. I also work at the weekend, so we plan our time effectively to incorporate shows and production cycles.
Gemma: Our Boys are talented, amazing young humans, and we have always incorporated them into everything we do, for anyone that has come to our stand at a show and met our boys they will understand! They understand we work, but we allow them to do the bits they can so they feel part of our Business, such as packing boxes and that makes a huge difference.
What does it mean to you both to have a business in the local area and what do you love about living and working here?
Gemma: We love having a local business, this area is extremely supportive of local, and we love that. Customers are loyal, friendly and interested in what we do, and I love chatting to them at events.
Charlie: There are so many fantastic local brands, and we feel part of an artisan food and drink circle that is rapidly expanding in the area, where we all support each other- I think that is key, and that is what makes a huge difference to our business.
Finally, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to share a behind the scenes look at Witham’s with the readers of the blog. What can we expect to see from the future of Witham’s and is there anything you can share with us about future releases, plans for the brand etc...
Charlie: The future of Witham’s is exciting! We have developed two new products for the Market, and we are looking at some further collaborations with some local companies moving forward, but for now it’s all under wraps!
#ShopLocal Quiz: Love to Shop Independent
I asked Charlie and Gemma or Witham's a few things about where they like to #ShopLocal, take a read!
1. Favourite place for brunch/lunch?
Gemma: Any of my friends houses...I love to going to my friends for lunch so Oliver can have a playdate and I get to see my girls! Charlie: Gates Garden Centre. I love to get garden inspiration there!
2. No.1 spot for an evening meal?
Gemma: Castle Inn, Castle Bytham. We have always loved the food there, and its local for us for a night out!
Charlie: Anywhere with Thai/ Japanese food! We travelled around Asia together so we go anywhere with asian cuisine!
3. Where do you love to shop?
Gemma: I am a beach bum, so most of my clothes are from Ann’s Cottage!
Charlie: Surfdome! We are both beach bums at heart!
4. Favourite coffee house or pub?
Gemma: Wymondham Windmill. Its great to take the kids to, they have indoor and outdoor toys and the food is fantastic.
Charlie: The Olive Branch, Clipsham. Their food is amazing and they use seasonal veg (coming from a horticulture family this means alot to me!)
5. Perfect place for a day out with the kids?
Gemma: Rutland Water everytime! Because its AMAZING!
Charlie: Grimethorpe Castle, biking, play areas and woods- what more could you want!
Local brand or business you admire?
Gemma: Two Chimps Coffee. I remember Laura telling me to take the leap and leave my paid job, she gave me that final push! They also make great coffee!
Charlie: GTT Europe. They have grown so much in their field and are a disability confident employer too.
Favourite fact about the area?
Gemma & Charlie: There is no McDonalds in Rutland - something we are very proud of!
Witham's - Artisan Winery
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