AMA: Frazer Thompson, founder of Chapel Down

Believe it or not, the South East of England is the UK's sunniest region, and it produces some of the finest wines in the world.

Frazer Thompson is the founder and CEO* of Chapel Down, an esteemed English vineyard and England's biggest wine business.

Frazer-Thompson

Hi Frazer! Tell us a bit about your company.

Chapel Down is England’s leading wine producer. Twenty years ago that was a bit like saying you were the downhill skiing champion of Saudi Arabia. Now it’s rather humbling to be leading the genesis of an important New World wine region.

How did the idea for Chapel Down come about?

The South East of England has a lot in common with the Champagne region of France. Firstly, we share the same critical chalk soil (the white cliffs of Dover were always a big clue).

Secondly, there has been around 1.5 degrees of global warming since the 1970s which has moved the “growing envelope” around 270km further north. That puts us into the sweet spot.

And thirdly we have knowledge and expertise in fruit growing (Kent is the garden of England after all) and wine (half of the World’s Masters of wine are British).

And finally, we love celebrating with sparkling wine. The UK is the biggest export market for Champagne in the World. So the market is on our doorstep.

Chapel-Down-wine-bottle

What’s the big aim?

We want to change the way people think about English wines. Forever.

Nice! Let's talk about teams. How do you keep your team aligned?

I have a great team. One of the myths of great management is that you should be managing your people all the time.

Gentle nudges, asking questions, offering words of encouragement or caution, providing positive honest communication and energy work far better than endless meetings and report writing.

We try to only hire great people. We give them a clear purpose and the tools to do the job and I think that takes us 95% of the way there. Good leadership is about ensuring there is energy, excitement and purpose in the business.

chapel-down-grapes

Can you share any practical tips or processes to help people work remotely?

Communication is the lifeblood of any organisation. Whilst Zoom and Teams are here to stay, I find one to ones and longer conversations more energising.

But you also need space and the environment to work without too many distractions and time to read and think occasionally. Balance is the key.

Who has had the most impact on your life, and the decisions you make in business?

My family. I want them to be as proud of me as I am of them.

chapel-down-barrel

Without a doubt. What is the biggest mistake you've made as an entrepreneur?

I probably haven’t made it yet. You aren’t an entrepreneur if you don’t take risks. And sometimes those risks don’t work out. As long as you learn from it. I learned very little from the failure of our Gin Works in Kings Cross other than it was in the wrong place.

Do you have a share or option scheme in place for your team? What impact has it made?

Yes, both. We want everyone to have skin in the game. I have no bonus scheme and nor do the other board directors as we want our objectives to be wholly aligned with the shareholders – many of whom are small investors and great customers.

chapel-down-drink

Fantastic. If you could resurrect any long-gone genius for advice, who would it be and why?

My father. At four years, not so long gone perhaps. Advice on business and philosophy you can get anywhere. Advice on how to be a better version of yourself needs the intimacy, love and insight of a parent. Or a partner. I’ve been very lucky in both.

Well said. And finally Frazer, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or the Marvel Universe?

Are they the only choices? They all seem very similar to me! Oh dear. I'm on the wrong questionnaire! If forced - Lord of the Rings.

Don't tell the fans that! Thanks so much for your time Frazer. It's been a pleasure.

*Information correct at the time of writing. However, since our interview, Frazer has decided to retire from Chapel Down and will be replaced by Andrew Carter, former MD at Chase Distillery. We wish Frazer a well-deserved rest and congratulate Andrew on his new role!