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Behind the Build: Wiston Estate Winery

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MGAC was founded with the promise to take on the most interesting and challenging project ideas and make them a reality. Getting there is a matter of a million small steps, countless conversations, a multitude of carefully-calibrated decisions that take place between day one and that long-awaited project delivery day. Those are the moments that make a project. We’re revisiting them as we delve into the ways our talented, passionate team makes each of our projects possible. Today, we go Behind The Build and revisit our work with Wiston Estate Winery.

Steeped in tradition, the South Downs wine story is one that dates back over 2,000 years. Home to a range of chalk hills that stretch from Winchester in Hampshire, the limestone soil and sun-soaked slopes create a landscape that’s perfectly suited for growing grapes. In recent years, winemaking in the region has received growing international acclaim, earning Sussex wine official legal designation on par with Champagne and Prosecco.

Nestled in the heart of West Sussex is Wiston Estate Winery, a magnificent estate that has been owned and managed by the Goring family since 1743. In 2006, the family planted grapes to produce wine. A little over a decade later, 2019 brought a record harvest, and the Gorings set out to expand their winery’s footprint. And so our work began. The goal: increase production capabilities from 120,000 bottles a year to 250,000 and bolster the visitor experience in the heart of the winery with new retail, wine tasting, and café offerings on-site. To make that all happen, we were engaged to provide bank and fund monitoring, building surveying, cost management, health and safety, and project management services.

Photo Credit: Will Scott Photography

FLINT BARNS, TURKEY FARMS, AND FINE WINE

Wiston Estate Winery has a storied history, one that is very much alive today on the grounds. It was important to the Goring family to preserve and enhance that history throughout the refurbishment project. There was a careful balance to strike in showcasing heritage assets while weaving in contemporary elements that extended the estate’s remarkable hospitality to more visitors for years to come.

With sustainability and authenticity at the heart of the project, plans were drawn up with exceptional care—and creativity. Through diligent restoration to flint walls, oak beams and handmade clay tile roof, an 18th-century threshing barn, once used as a turkey farm, would become the property’s new dining destination. Demolition of dilapidated storage buildings would allow for the recreation of the historic courtyard at the heart of the site, while extensions and alterations to actively used wine production buildings would allow the winery to grow alongside its flourishing customer base.

The construction work to make it all happen would be extensive and wide-ranging. It spanned demolition, civil works, heritage refurbishment, steel frame building construction, extensive public realm, and large-scale commercial refurbishment works.

Early Concept Sketch – Courtesy of ECE Architecture

CONTRACTS, COORDINATION, AND LOTS OF COMMUNICATION

This was, by every measure, a big job. More challenging yet? It needed to happen on an actively producing site. To make that possible, we advised the client to split the work into multiple construction packages and administered and controlled a total of eight works packages.

The assembled project team was commensurately diverse to the task at hand. ECE Architecture spent 18 months drawing up the plans for the work. Hop Consulting Limited oversaw structural engineering with Delta Green as M&E engineers. Dowsett Mayhew served as a planning consultant. Quite a few consultants were brought on board, as well. Manorwood served as the heritage consultant and contractor. Cheesmur Building Contractors completed the main bulk of work, with Landbuild completing the complex site groundworks. All of the demolition contracting work was overseen by Hughes and Salvidge. Throughout the project, a handful of additional contractors were brought in, and at the height of construction, there were as many as five contractors on the site at any given time.

Managing multiple contractors was one of the biggest challenges to navigate during the project. Knowing the importance of each role, it was one we took very seriously. We started every day with strategic conversations and kept them going until the day’s end. It proved to be critical coordination that kept everyone on the same page.

Photo Credit: Will Scott Photography

CHANGE OF PLANS, COVID, AND A CHRISTMAS DEADLINE

Construction projects can be unpredictable—and sometimes, nature is the culprit. An unexpected bumper harvest took us by surprise and called for a major change in plans. It required storage of hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine—and fast. To save the product and protect the client’s assets, we worked swiftly to re-sequence the procurement strategy to ensure a new building could be built in time. Some 250,000 bottles later, you could say the team pulled it off.

As with many projects over the last couple of years, COVID entered as a major unforeseen factor. Managing the risks related to contracts and keeping everything moving on schedule and on budget was critical throughout the height of the pandemic. Then came the next challenge: opening the doors to a new restaurant by Christmas 2021. As a way to invite guests to enjoy the seasonal produce from the estate and nearby producers, the creation of the Chalk Restaurant and Tasting Room was a central component of the property renovation plan. Due to its historic nature, it was also one of the most complex jobs to tackle.

Working with heritage assets is something that must be done with care by experts. What’s more, this project aspired to not only incorporate these materials, but make them central to the design and the eventual guest experience. Original elements were exposed and highlighted, while those in need of replacement were locally sourced and crafted as they historically would have been. As is often the case with renovation builds, there were surprises along the way, but having the right team on the ground and a carefully devised plan kept things on track. Chalk opened its doors on December 7, 2021, to a full dining room.

Photo Credit: Will Scott Photography

CREATING AND BOTTLING AN EXPERIENCE LIKE NO OTHER

At its core, this project centered on commitment. Our project team’s commitment to delivering excellent work while not disrupting winery operations. Commitment to an end goal that empowered us to swiftly pivot—and sometimes, pivot again—when forces beyond our control demanded a new approach. Our client’s commitment to breathing new life into the estate and ensuring guests will have an experience to remember for years to come.

Wiston Estate Winery is a home for some, a place of employment for others, and an invitation for all to experience the beauty and bounty of the South Downs. We felt that hospitality every day on the jobsite, and are thrilled to know we had a hand in ensuring more people can share in this special place.

Earlier this month, we attended the 2022 Sussex Heritage Trust Award Ceremony where the Wiston Estate Winery received an award in the Commercial category. Those of us who work in this industry know it takes a lot of work to create an experience that feels effortless. The production of fine wine is no different, each bottle the prized product of dogged diligence, educated experiments, and countless recalibrations. When someone is able to simply savor the moment, and never once contemplate all that went into it, you know you’ve pulled it off.

Photo Credit: Will Scott Photography

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Katie Rubino

Katie is a Senior Communications Manager at MGAC, leading the Marketing Team in efforts related to social media and public relations.

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