I grew up on our family farm Tyrrells Court, near Dilwyn in Herefordshire. Wanting to be a farmer and grow produce enhanced with the magic of the seasonal earthy smell of planting potatoes into fresh soil in the spring, the malty smell of a trailer of fresh barley, and the intense smell of cider fruit when freshly harvested. With the homey fruity smell overpowering the farm yard, this was to be my dream career, but then reality in the commercial world stepped in. I struggled to make ends meet for many years in my 20s, trying to make a business doing what I liked farming and eventually found it best to focus on one thing; it was potatoes, for good or for bad. I grew potatoes and traded them to supermarkets to make a living but little more. As a trader with the phone ringing all day with constant problems, mainly as a result of the supermarkets pressure to reduce price, life was difficult. Then one sunny day, trying to deal with one of these problems, I had a batch of potatoes rejected from a supermarket for not being pretty enough. To cut a long story short, these potatoes went to Kettle chips and were accepted as some of the best potatoes they’d ever had. This gave me the eureka idea to turn our Herefordshire spuds into chips, as most chips at that time where made from substandard industrial potatoes with the hand fried chips being produced in the UK being a thick, dark, jaw-breaking lump and I knew we could do better!
Armed with the idea to turn our spuds into chips, I immediately flew out to the States in November with the aim to find out how to make chips and buy the fryers in Armish land - Pennsylvania, USA. Within six months from my eureka moment, I had converted one of our potato stores into a fully functional mini factory. Aided by the original team on the farm (and some common sense) we established a brand onto the market and so Tyrrells was born. Tyrrells quickly grew as customers bought into the quality and pedigree of the product, the sincerity of the brand and subsequent innovation of the brand to diversify into vegetable chips and other things.
As Tyrrells grew quickly I started to look for the next chapter (as I was getting fatter!) and needed a change. On one of my Tyrrells export trips I discovered potato vodka made from just potatoes and could not believe how good it tasted. Then, learning that gin is made from vodka, (well, a very crude vodka called Neutral Grain Spirit, which is mass produced spirit that can be bought cheap), I thought that if we could make gin from our own home-grown vodka this would be fantastic and we would become the first real single-estate gin. When creating our gin, I found that our world class potato vodka was a little heavy to hold some of our botanicals and I wanted something light. We distilled an apple vodka from cider and redistilled that into gin, giving a deliciously natural, fruity taste from the apple tannins in the skin. To take our spirits to market was not easy. Usually the spirits industry relies on big companies buying their brands into the market, or small craft distilleries buying in cheap spirit to boil in botanicals, so that our biggest handicap was the laborious process. Soon I learnt why nobody wants to make gin or vodka from potatoes or cider! We learnt that some of the best sales people were quality wine merchants as they totally understood about terroir and our processes.
Focusing on the wine market takes us into the next Williams Chase chapter; our wine growing and making. As a farmer I get to grow the vines, watching over the process from seed to bottle, so that the taste of the wine speaks for itself. Now we are starting to grow biodynamically to make our Provence Rosé with the ultimate aim to grow and make our own fine Southern Rhone Grenach-Syrah-Mourvedre aged in amphora and oak. We aim to keep innovating with both the spirits and the wines, experimenting with ways to make vodka, by fermenting beetroot for example; anything new and different!
I have spent most of my farming life under great pressure to make ends meet by growing massive crops. Now with our gin made from cider in biodynamic conversion and growing wine biodynamically, I can grow and make something sustainable with real pedigree.
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