After studying humanities for four years, Walgate found work in the wine bars of London and Newcastle and began reading up on alternative ways of winemaking. “The fact that these biodynamic wines tasted more interesting, and that they were this living thing really piqued my interest,” he recalls. A tour of Europe’s biodynamic vineyards confirmed that interest and he returned to the UK to study winemaking and grape growing.
In 2004, Walgate began importing biodynamic and organic wines. He then restored a vineyard on the Isle of Wight before becoming CEO of Gusbourne, an esteemed sparkling wine producer in the nearby Kent village of Appledore. Whilst there, he was introduced to the conservationist, Lord Devonport, a local estate owner looking to diversify his land. “We were incredibly well aligned in terms of our values and how we imagined we might structure a business,” says Walgate. “In the back my mind, I always knew that this model was what I wanted: diversified, regenerative farming, low-intervention winemaking, food, drink, hospitality, as well as a place to live – that has always been where my interest lies.”
Work began apace at Tillingham in 2017. Walgate bought in some grapes, purchased some second-hand winemaking equipment and began producing organic and biodynamic natural wines in what he describes as an “off-piste, left-of-centre way.” His slow, labour-intensive production methods are driven by an innate curiosity for ancient winemaking. He has, for example, buried a collection of Georgian clay urns, or qvevri, in the ground beneath a Victorian oast house. “I’ve always wanted to ferment in clay,” he explains. “The idea of using a tradition of winemaking that’s eight millennia old is incredibly important to me. Fermenting in clay is the most primitive and natural way of making wine, so why not champion that?”