Suffolk vineyard owner shares top tips for starting a wedding venue
16th October 2023
Ian Evans, co-owner of Copdock Hall Vineyard in Ipswich, spoke at the recent Autumn Farming Conference to share the highs and lows of running a boutique vineyard and wedding venue.
Having been a journalist for 20 years, Ian Evans moved to Cape Town in 2007 and noticed a lot of weddings taking place on vineyards – a trend that was yet to hit the UK at the time.
After moving back to the UK, he decided to plant a vineyard as a backdrop for a wedding venue – and bought Hall Farm in 2012.
An ambitious project
The farm was run down and the Grade II-listed barn, built in 1570, required a three-year renovation project.
The vineyard was planted in 2013, with one red variety (Rondo) and two white (Bacchus and Solaris). Rabbits are the bane of their lives, so rabbit guards were needed for the young trees.
In the early days, Ian said local farmers laughed at him for planting a vineyard, but soon vineyards were popping up all over East Anglia, and two of the early sceptics ended up buying vines off him later.
Ian had completed wine making courses in South Africa and sought advice from what’s now GB Wine East – and he’s found that people in the industry are always willing to offer help and advice.
They also got advice on the planning application side of things – something Ian highly recommends, as well as knowing when to coerce and push the local authority for updates.
Weddings are the main business
Copdock Hall has been open since 2015 and its main business is weddings, with the vineyard being part of the marketing mix – guests will drink their wine during events and they also sell to local shops and pubs. Despite this, they received Rose of the Year for East Anglia.
As well as their key wines they offer a Champagne Brut and a gin infused with their grapes.
Rather than requiring guests to use their own caterers, they offer a choice of four caterers and take a percentage of their profits.
Up until Covid-19 they were doing 50 weddings a year and are pretty much back up to this level now.
Should you start a vineyard?
Offering advice to those considering planting a vineyard, Ian offered some key pieces of advice:
- Firstly, you must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you will get from A to B
- It goes without saying, but you must do your budgets, know how much it will cost and have a contingency plan
- With large numbers of new vineyards popping up, there have been concerns about market saturation. Where will your grapes go? Ian said Copdock Hall produces 2,000 bottles a year and they just about sell them all, but bigger vineyards may struggle more
- Do you have the determination to do it and overcome all the obstacles and challenges which might be outside of your comfort zone?
- Another key consideration is – do you like the general public? Many diversification schemes involve dealing with the public, so if this doesn’t appeal, you will either need to change or employ somebody else to deal with this side of things
- Find the right staff – being able to rely on your staff to do what you need is key.
Once these factors are taken into consideration, Ian told visitors he “can’t urge you enough to give it a go if you’ve got it in you”.
“Very dark time”
Despite the optimism, Ian acknowledged that the pandemic was a “very dark time” for the business. Not only did they lose two years’ income, with very little government support, people blamed them for not being able to host weddings during the lockdowns. And when they were able to reopen, they then had a huge backlog of weddings to deal with.
However, Ian said the rewards are plentiful both financial and personal, and they get huge pride when they get thanked for making someone’s day special.
Passing the baton
Copdock Hall is now up for sale, as Ian said the time has come for them to pass the baton, having achieved as much from the business as they feel able to. It’s thought the new owners will convert the house into guest accommodation – a direction he would have taken had he stayed.
Next steps for Ian include consulting on weddings, perhaps a return to journalism – but most importantly, a rest.