Simpsons Wine Estate owners Ruth and Charles bought their first vineyard and winery, Domaine Sainte Rose, in the Languedoc, South of France in 2002. After enjoying great success across the channel, they bought their winemaking expertise back to the UK in 2012 to pioneer an English Sparkling Wine project.
They invested in 90 acres (30 hectares) of land in the North Downs in Kent – an area of outstanding natural beauty that is perfectly suited to viticulture – and from 2014 to 2017 planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines across three sites.
Their first harvest took place in autumn 2016, and last year, they released their first wine from the Estate, a limited edition, still Chardonnay – the Roman Road Chardonnay. Their first sparkling wine will be released in time for Christmas 2018.
Simpsons Wine Estate contacted Rap Interiors to convert a section of their winery into a state of the art visitor attraction. Rap Interiors was responsible for both the design and conversion of the space, which entailed utilising an existing two-storey mezzanine within the winery.
The works included the creation of a meet and greet area with WCs, a staff tea point and additional storage space on ground level; an open plan office floor one; and a high end wine tasting room to hold events on floor two. In addition to these spaces, Ruth and Charles Simpson wanted colour-changing LED floodlights to illuminate the winery and a Helter Skelter slide to transport guests from the wine tasting room to the ground floor for an unforgettable post-tasting exit.
It was also important to Ruth and Charles that the wine tasting room, known as ‘The Glasshouse’, overlooked the winery to enhance the experience for guests. This would involve encasing the mezzanine in glass – an operation that would require an exceptional level of expertise to execute.
To start, Rap Interiors conducted a site survey of the winery. At this stage, the space consisted of nothing more than a collection of wine vats and the two storey mezzanine floor.
Upon inspecting the mezzanine, Rap suggested implementing floor-to-ceiling glass to form the shell of the three floor visitor attraction. However, with the mezzanine floor already installed, this restricted Rap’s designers to working within the existing structure and footprint.
Given that the second floor of the mezzanine was so close to the barn’s sloping roof, much of the space was off limits due to height restrictions. To overcome this challenge, Rap’s interior designers from Kent re-configured the layout several times, thus optimising the remaining functional space.
Ruth and Charles also wanted to keep room in the warehouse for additional wine vats, meaning that this space was out of bounds for building an access point to the upper levels. Rap’s solution was to configure one core access zone within the mezzanine by integrating a new staircase on the ground floor. Not only would this help to save space but allow guests to enter the upper levels from the meet and greet area.
Before and After - The Meet and Greet Area 3D Design
The Meet and Greet Area
Beneath the new staircase, Rap’s interior designers suggested implementing a display feature to add aesthetic interest to the meet and greet area. The design included shelves to display wine bottles and a bespoke wine rack effect feature within the spandrel. To finish, the glass surrounding the staircase included manifestation with the Simpsons Wine Estate crest for a sophisticated touch.
Other key features of the meet and greet area design included a wall vinyl graphic showing an image of the Simpsons’ vineyard; soft furniture and a glass top coffee table for waiting guests; two luxury WCs with durable stone resin basins; and a storyboard wall with framed images chronicling the narrative journey of Simpsons Wine Estate.
Additionally, Rap Interiors integrated a stock room and kitchen into the ground floor space. The stock room would offer additional space to store the wine, while the kitchen would enable the staff to prep cheese boards and canapes for the winery tours.
Creating the functional office space Ruth and Charles envisaged entailed implementing a number of spaces. These spaces included a rooms for the directors and manager, a boardroom, and a further open plan office.
For the directors’ office design, Rap introduced a pebble effect carpet with a champagne-yellow zebra crossing feature and furnished the space with oak desking, pedestals and a meeting table. As per Ruth and Charles’s request, Rap also ensured the directors’ office overlooked the winery through intelligent space planning.
Running adjacent to the directors’ office was the boardroom space, which Rap transformed by implementing a grape-themed wall vinyl graphic; a bespoke meeting table with a stunning black matte finish; soft skid base chairs; a pebble effect carpet with a zig zag effect; and a large television for group presentations.
In the centre of the room, Rap created the manager’s office by introducing a desk with a privacy screen, soft seating solutions and a magnetic glass board to brainstorm ideas. Opposite the manager’s workspace, the design team configured an additional office to overlook the Simpsons’ winery. For a fitting final touch, Rap finished the additional office space with a wall vinyl graphic of the Simpsons’ vineyard.
In order to add depth to the floor, the manager’s and directors’ office were fronted with glass rather than traditional stud walls. This would also allow for as much natural sunlight to enter the room as possible, ensuring the office was bright, inviting and hospitable for staff.
Rap Interiors also installed LED floodlights on the outer side of the mezzanine to illuminate the winery below. The lights are able to dim and change colour, ensuring the view for overlooking crowds was unforgettable.
Before and After - The 'Glasshouse' Wine Tasting Room 3D Design
The Glasshouse Tasting Room
With the view of attracting tourism and new clients to Simpsons Wine Estate, Ruth and Charles wanted Rap’s interior designers from Kent to transform the second floor of the mezzanine into a state of the art wine tasting venue. Known as the ‘Glasshouse’, the venue would provide an aerial view of the winery to show guests where the magic happens.
The Glasshouse would be split into two sections: a bar area where the Simpsons team could host the wine tasting events and a luxurious lounge for guests to unwind while taking in the stunning view of the winery.
To give the top floor a high end feel, Rap’s interior designers implemented a number of bespoke features. These including a hanging pendant light with custom wine glass bulbs etched with the Simpsons Wine Estate Logo; ‘S’ shaped wine bottle holders fashioned out of aluminium metal; a bespoke bar with an ocean ripple finish and integrated, self-cleaning spittoons; and plush velvet sofas and cocktail chairs. Rap also introduced sumptuous gold stools by Frovi to the bar for an added touch of class.
In addition to the bar area and lounge, Ruth and Charles wanted to enhance the experience for guests by introducing a top floor Helter Skelter slide which could transport guests to ground level. Despite facing a number of health and safety challenges, Rap were able to install the slide, known as the ‘Fruit Shute’, to ensure that The Simpsons’ vision for the visitor attraction was complete.
With the stunning Glasshouse Tasting Room, inviting meet and greet area and functional office space, Ruth and Charles now have the facilities the need to grow their brand in the UK. We loved being involved in this incredible project and are sure the visitors will have a great experience when they arrive.
Watch Rap’s project manager going down the ‘Fruit Shute’ helter skelter
What has been the major attraction for you to expand into Kent?
“We were excited by the prospect of being part of the developing English Wine Industry. We’re also British by birth, so ultimately it was fascinating for us that our homeland was now able to produce really high end wines.
Wine has been made in England for many years but it’s not been high end method traditional sparkling wine using the champagne varieties, so we spotted an opportunity. Ultimately it was the dynamism of the industry and the desire to be part of that movement that attracted us.”
Why did you embark on needing a wine tasting venue?
“In France we do not have a visitors’ facility because we realise that with the low population in southern France everyone’s cousin or uncle or grandfather has a plot of vines. There are vineyards as far as the eye can see so it’s not cool or interesting to be making wine in the South of France.
As far as the local population is concerned in the South of France you might get the odd tourist during the summer when it is a cloudy day and you can’t go to the beach, but there’s not the same demand for wine tourism in our area of France.
Here in Kent, however, we realised there was huge opportunity for tourism, as both the local residents and visitors from further afield are fascinated by the fact that the UK can now produce a very high quality product.
Therefore, a commercial fit out became a viable project for us. Our plan was to bring people in for tours and tastings ahead of actually selling them some wine at the end of 2018. Clearly that also means staffing it appropriately; we have people trained up to host tasting events so it’s a different area of the business that we can develop in conjunction with the actual wine production side.”
What are your aspirations for the venue?
“Essentially it’s about increasing footfall and visitor numbers, raising awareness of our brand, and attracting customers for our wine.”
How will it help to grow your brand?
“Our monthly vineyard and winery tours will help to raise awareness of our brand. We can really get people excited about the product and this will hopefully result in us getting pre-orders for wine ready for its release at the end of the year and into 2019.”
What are your expectations?
“It’s about having a more of a presence within the English wine industry and ultimately attracting more visitors. For example, we’re now on the radar of people like Visit Kent who will hopefully be able to talk more about our business.
It’s such a long lead time between purchasing the land, planting the vines and actually having a product to sell, so certainly by organising events it’s a way for the business to generate some income before we actually move on to wine sales.”
Did Rap live up to your expectations and what made you choose them over anyone else?
“Rap definitely lived up to our expectations. I think what attracted us to Rap was the fact that it could handle the design, construction and furniture elements of the fit out. This meant that although there were a lot of decisions that had to be funnelled through them we didn’t have to work with multiple companies.
Rap being a Kent based organisation business was another attraction. We were also attracted by the fact that Rick and Julie were a husband and wife team like ourselves.”
Would you recommend Rap to other businesses?
Rap Interiors Ltd
We at Rap Interiors are delighted to have realised Ruth and Charles’s vision for this state of the art visitor attraction. I think it’s an incredible project and made even better by the fact that it’s in Kent! Having attended a wine tasting event with the Rap team I highly recommend visiting the attraction for a fun and unforgettable day. We wish Ruth, Charles and the rest of the team every success for the future and hope they enjoy their fab new working environment!
If the Simpsons Wine Estate story has inspired you to make changes to your space, then make sure you get in touch with Rap Interiors. Since 1988, Rap’s interiors design and project team has been transforming workspaces with modern, dynamic and practical designs.
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