Lucy-Ann Prideaux is passionate about wine and she is also a keen walker. After a chance meeting with retired marketer, Ian Shearer, they discussed the idea of combining her two loves into a successful business. The result was Fizz on Foot and the business is flourishing. Interview by Ian Trevett
Now established as the South East’s premier wine tour company, Fizz on Foot has successfully captured the fast-growing English wine industry, showcasing, in particular, the best of English sparkling wine.
The tour company offers many different tour experiences, incorporating wine tastings, visits to local vineyards, food and wine matching experiences, as well as walking tours throughout the beautiful Sussex countryside. With a wide range of tour options, Fizz on Foot entertains local visitors and small groups, as well as companies looking for novel team-building experiences, such as a Downland hike followed by a tutored wine tasting, or a fun blind champagne tasting with a sumptuous meal to follow.
This relatively new company has also hosted European and International guests now wanting to get a flavour of English wine, and of course see what all the fuss is about concerning English Fizz!
From a 1-day walk with wine tastings and buffet lunches, through to 3-4 day tours that take in several vineyards and walking routes, guests see, taste and experience for themselves the entire process and production of award-winning English sparkling wines. Many express the enjoyment of earning their tipples with a good walk beforehand!
It was Lucy-Ann Prideaux who first came up with the idea. “My father lives in Cape Town and I used to do a lot of wine touring with him,” says Lucy-Ann. “These trips really sparked off my love of not just drinking wine, but the whole story of the grape to the bottle. You really understand the hard work, passion and the patience, plus the skills and the techniques that go into producing good quality wine.
“The last time I was in Cape Town, we were in a beautiful place called Franschhoek, which stands for French Corner. It’s a little pocket in the mountains, in the valley about an hour from Cape Town. It’s the most beautiful place and this hub of about 100 vineyards that surround this valley. It’s known as the food and wine capital of South Africa, even Richard Branson has a vineyard there. So it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. And it attracts the very wealthy and people in the know and they have Michelin star restaurants in the High Street. I was at a vineyard in the mountainside with my father and I said to him “I would love to get into the wine industry.” I was in my late 40s, but I came back to the UK and I studied wine. I did part-time courses and ended up at Plumpton College where I did my Advanced Certificate in Wine.
“At the same time I was aware of how wine appreciation was changing in England. Gone are the days where you used to buy a bottle of so-called wine tasting like vinegar from the supermarket. The whole industry has exploded and especially in the South East. And there’s a specialist focus on sparkling wine. I got jobs as a wine tour guide – it was the wine tourism that I was really interested in. I quite like entertaining, and I love people and working with people. So it was the perfect blend for me.
Go forward several years to three years ago, and on a summer’s day when Lucy-Ann was heading back to her car after a hike, a man tapped her on the shoulder and said “Weren’t you at a business networking in Eastbourne last week?” They we struck up a conversation and it evolved into talking about the idea of starting a walking wine tour business.
“I had no wine background at all,” says Ian Shearer. “I’d just retired from a design and print business called Manor Group. I did all the sales and marketing for the company. Having talked to Lucy-Ann who said “My passion in life is a walking and wine tasting tour business. But I wouldn’t have a clue how to go about it.” So I said “Let’s go and have a coffee” and two weeks later we set the company up. That’s how it started.
“We took our time building up relationships and visiting vineyards,” says Lucy-Ann. “We were working out how we could make this a really memorable experience but also educational. We wanted to make tours totally bespoke; we wanted to make each one a very personal experience.
Ian agrees, “Each trip is different. We find out what they are looking for as well as their health and fitness, and then we construct the tour around the group. So if they just want a 3-mile flat walk beside the river, that’s what we do. If they want an uphill and downhill 9-mile walk, we can do that.
“We tend to go to Sussex vineyards such as Court Garden, Ridgeview, Bluebell vineyard, Sheffield Park. We also go to the beautiful Rathfinny Wine Estate, which will soon have their sparkling wine ready to drink. Everyone is looking forward to this experience.
It is the most fantastic vineyard with such stunning views across the Cuckmere valley. Once the wine is ready, it will be the place to go. The owners of each of the vineyards organise tastings and talk about their wine, as no-one knows their wines like they do.”
The word about English Sparkling Wines is spreading and many Fizz on Foot tours are snapped up by tourists. “We recently had a group of Americans come over and they were fascinated to find out about English wine, says Ian. “They had tried English wine already, which had been exported to the US. We took them to the English Wine Centre for lunch and they also went to Bluebell Vineyard, and they were great supporters of English wine.
“I think Benelux would be a good market for us. We’ve had help from the DIT, who are organising a trade mission for us.”
At the moment the target market is the empty nesters, the retired population who have the time and money to spend one to three days exploring the county’s finest vineyards, however the corporate market is growing quickly. There is definitely a huge interest in English wine among the business community.
Ian and Lucy-Ann have an infectious enthusiasm about our wine and beautiful countryside. They want to share this with businesspeople across the county. Give them a call, and set up an unforgettable Sussex experience.
Tel: 01323 737271
Mobile: 07971 851777