The Orkney Islands are an archipelago located above the far northern tip of Scotland. These rugged, wind-swept islands have a tremendously rich history dating back to Mesolithic times and have been inhabited for over 8,500 years. They were a Viking stronghold for several centuries and many of the families currently residing on the island can trace their ancestry back to the Norsemen. The current population totals just over 20,000 with many of these people employed in traditional sectors of the economy such as farming, fishing, and food production. The world famous Highland Park distillery is a major employer and is perhaps the reason that many people have heard of the Orkney Islands. This whisky is frequently called the ‘best in the world’ by various experts and is certainly amongst the most highly rated. Organic farming has been established in Orkney for many years. The local people are very proud of their domestic produce. Beef, lamb and other agricultural produce from the Orkney Islands are often regarded as being amongst the best that the British Isles has to offer. It should therefore come as little surprise that there are a number other smaller companies building on the prestigious reputation Orkney has of producing first class quality products. One of these companies is The Orkney Wine Company.
The Orkney Wine Company was founded by Emile van Schayk in the late 1990s. Essentially, after Emile was given a few traditional recipes from an old retired shepherdess his hobby of home winemaking took off in a big way. A true labor of love, he won several local competitions for his homemade wines which encouraged him to set up commercially and it has gone from strength to strength from that point onwards. Demand outstripping his production capabilities, he move his company first from his kitchen to his garage and then to its current location, a factory on the island of Lamb Holm, where they also have a shop retailing their extensive range of products.
The company now produces a range of fruit wines and liquors made from berries, flowers and vegetables which are sourced locally whenever possible. These beverages are entirely handmade and are 100% natural and sulfur free. Not using sulfites allows for the full fermentation process to run its course in the traditional manner. Additionally they use bentonite, a type of natural clay to filter the wine rather than gelatin or animal products which ensures that their full product range is suitable for vegetarians. The production is certainly not a quick process, ranging from 6 months for Orkney White up to 2-3 years for the Elderberry or even 10 years for some of the limited edition cask bottles.
They’ve done a great job with their innovative branding, using sophisticated looking bottles and labels. Thy have also fully embraced social media marketing which was how I initially became aware of their products.
I wanted to find out more about this exciting company so I passed a few questions to Colin van Schayk, Emile’s son.
BevTalk: Hi Collin. What is your personal involvement with the company?
Collin: I’m pretty much involved in every aspect of the company, from making the wine, to graphic design and web design right down to selling the wine direct to customers or through wholesale.
BevTalk: Out of all of the range which is the most popular and why do you think this is the case? Which is your personal favorite?
Collin: The most popular without a doubt is the Orkney Red, I think partly due to the name, but also because people can relate it to their favourite red wine. My personal favourite is the Black Portent, it’s rich, smooth and almost too easy to drink.
BevTalk: How important is it that the product range is produced in Orkney and how does this influence the types of beverages you produce?
Collin: Being called the Orkney Wine Company it’s very important that everything is made and bottled here in Orkney. As well as, as much as possible grown here in Orkney which is what influences our range the most. We like to use fruits, flowers and vegetables that grow well here on the Island as it means we know we are getting high quality ingredients.
BevTalk: How does the local community up in Orkney feel about your products? Do you get much support from the local infrastructure?
Colin: I’d like to think we get a fair amount of local support and that a lot of people will have a favourite wine or liqueur. The wholesalers and retailers are good to us, most of the main shops, including the local Tesco, and tourist spots stock our products.
BevTalk: What problems have you encountered launching a brand in the UK beverage industry? Was it all plane sailing?
Collin: I think we’ve faced the usual problems that any business has when starting out. The main problem in the UK is the Government, the ever increasing alcohol duty certainly doesn’t help. In recent years there have been more and more alcohol licensing laws which are becoming stricter all the time making it more difficult, but it’s just something we have to stay on top of. It’s probably the same in most countries because alcohol tends to be a high tax product.
BevTalk: Do you have plans to export your products? Which markets do you think would most appreciate your products?
Collin: We have exported to several places all over Europe in the past, but it’s not been a constant thing. I think the best market for us would be in the U.S we get a lot of requests for our products out there. We wouldn’t need to change the product labeling much which helps; it’s the logistics we need to figure out.
BevTalk: What’s next for you as a company? Do you have plans to expand and will this always be focused in Orkney?
Collin: We have several exciting plans in the pipeline, the main one involves branching out and launching an entirely new product. We can’t say too much yet, but it’s not beer, whisky or gin.
BevTalk: Thank you Collin.
Some great insights there from Colin, and I couldn’t agree more regarding the UK governments meddling with taxation rates. I wish them the best of luck with their products as they certainly have a very genuine approach to the industry. It’s refreshing in this day and age to see people making products they love themselves rather than exploiting the industry purely for commercial gain. I for one am intrigued as to what this new product will take the form of and will watch them very closely. I agree with Colin, in that I think Orkney Wine’s would be very well received in the USA and I hope a few of the importers reading this will be interested and get in contact with the company.
Please visit orkneywine.co.uk for more information.
As always, I am @BevTalk