Mary Bridges is Gusbourne’s Head Winemaker. She’s 30, incredibly talented and incredibly ambitious. She’s also lovely. Energetic, bright, interested, considerate and articulate, with an air of quiet confidence that belies her years.
Mary took on this prestigious role in our winemaking team in September, just in time to head up the 2023 vintage – our largest to date. But, rather than a baptism of fire, harvest 2023 proved to be a natural next step for a team who are well-versed in Gusbourne’s style of winemaking.
Together with AJ, our Head of Wine Operations, Jon Pollard, our Chief Vineyard Manager and Laura Rhys, Master Sommelier, the team brought together a fabulous crop of fruit and filled a record number of barrels.
Mary’s route into winemaking came about thanks to a love of the land, forged by her Scottish childhood (“my Dad was a farmer”), and an instinct for the flavour alchemy created by good wine. “I started out working in hospitality, but it was always the wine side of things which I loved,” says Mary. “So, I went to Plumpton to do a degree in viticulture and oenology.”
Before finishing her studies, Mary worked the 2018 vintage in the South of France. “Then by chance, Charlie [Holland, our former Chief Winemaker] got in touch. Someone had dropped out of harvest at Gusbourne, so I went straight into the UK harvest. And that was it: I got the bug. It was a really easy choice to push on and progress my career in wine production.”
Prior to joining the team full-time in 2020, Mary spent another stint abroad at influential Californian producer Merry Edwards. “I was just an intern, but I learned so much,” says Mary. “Heidi, the deputy winemaker, tasted everything every day, every ferment, every bit of juice. And although she did look at the numbers [the chemical analysis], even things like deciding when to pick the grapes was mainly done by looking at the colour of the juice.
“It was a really important lesson – and one of the hardest things you learn. You can’t just make wine by numbers. The numbers can look good, and you might make a decision based on them, but you’ve got to know when to close the spreadsheet and simply smell and taste. Sometimes it’s more about do we like the wine or do we not?”
Over the past several years, Mary has gone from a shy student of winemaking to playing a pivotal role in a small but hugely talented team. Mary ascribes much of her success – and her steep learning trajectory – to the atmosphere of learning and curiosity at Gusbourne.
“I made a real effort to find a direction within the winemaking team which I could grow into,” she says. “For me, it was working in the lab and taking the lead on winemaking R&D. And being in the same office with Charlie meant there was a constant conversation about wine. We were continuously absorbing information and learning without knowing it.”
Mary now works incredibly closely with AJ and Laura. “Laura is the most experienced palate; she has years of Gusbourne wine-tasting and blending behind her. Meanwhile, AJ has got heaps of operational and industry knowledge and he’s brilliant at what he does. They’re relationships which work incredibly well.”
Of course, winemaking is a team effort. And being surrounded by this supportive team who bring experience and enthusiasm is a great place to be. But, beyond this holistic view of Gusbourne’s team, surely Mary must be delighted with having “Head Winemaker” on her CV.
“I feel very, very proud,” she says. “I’m young, I’m at the beginning of my winemaking career, but I was never not going to put myself forward for this kind of opportunity. Nor was it a given that I’d walk into this job. I’ve worked hard to get here, and that’s not going to change. But I’m OK with that.
“This is what I love to do.”