What is your driving reason for founding the brand?
Quite simply because nobody else was doing it in the UK. Caudalies have done a great job from their origins in Bordeaux but we wanted an independent UK brand that would celebrate the success of English vineyards: 30 years ago, the industry barely existed but there is now an abundance of world class wines and that gives us access to fantastic raw ingredients in grape skins, seeds and stems every year post harvest, right on our doorstep in Kent.
Why is wine important to you?
I love the stories of people and places: every winemaker has a new story to tell every year. Each vineyard can also express how it’s been treated over time and each year, the story differs with vintage variations: 2018 was the most generous vintage in England whereas 2021 has been more testing. So you combine the farmer, the elements, the soil and it becomes its own story. In a career, a winemaker only has the opportunity to work maybe 40 harvests, which in itself is a tough creative process. We get the easy job to open the bottle !
What's important about the location the grapes are sourced from?
We want our products to express the personality of the vines so we source the raw material from Westwell Wines because we admire their low intervention approach to wine farming and wine making. They think in generations, not just years ! In turn, we do not seek to manufacture uniformity from year to in the lab year and will respect vintage variations. We believe that’s the best way to celebrate the pride of place and provenance.
In future, we will explore partnering with other vineyards further afield with the same mindset. I am particularly interested in the few vineyards that haven’t been affected by phylloxera in the late 1800s so we can work with the fruits of vines which are over 100 year old and offer amazing concentration of flavours and for our purpose, see how they contribute to extracts we can use in the Pelegrims range.
Which Pelegrims product would you say is your favourite?
The Facial Balm – out of the iterations in the formulation, it evolved into a naturally dark shaded balm – then we stopped because we liked it. If we ran focus groups and did market research, we’d be told that people have a low patience threshold and it needs absorbing in under 2-3 seconds whereas we enjoy the slightly longer time it takes.
Which ingredient would you say, apart from the grape extracts, is one to look out for in the launch range?
I would actually urge you to look out for differences in the same Pelegrims product from year to year. We know vintage variation is significant in the vineyard and we’re happy to be forced away from uniformity. We’re just getting started so we intend to learn for a very long time on how this plays out.
Where do you see the brand in a year's time? Will there be any new products or are you keeping to this starting range?
People often over-estimate what can be achieved in the short term and under-estimate what can be done in the long term so if I try and answer factually what Pelegrims will be like in 12 months’ time, I’ll get it wrong! More seriously, there is a wonderful quote by Blaise Pascal which goes “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone” – and it was written in the 1600s so he was referring to our temperament, not even the influence of phones and TikTok! We make sure to remind ourselves of this regularly and we also have no outside investors so we are fully independent and have the luxury of time. We can therefore have a very long attention span and will only release products when we’re happy, not because we are forced into a frantic search for movement.
What do you like most about Kent? Do you have a favorite place there or any recommendations (apart from a visit to Westwell's vineyards!)?
I love Kent because you can find noise (its proximity to London), silence (the North Downs is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the fresh air of sea (Whistable, Margate, Folkestone are favourites). And of course, Kent (and Sussex) is at the heart of the English wine revolution – the 20 mile stretch from Aylesford (with Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty vineyard) to Charing, where Westwell is located, via Nyetimber vineyards in between will soon be on a par in terms of destinations with the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy (going past Pommard, Volnay etc) or the Napa Valley in California. So visit now whilst it’s quiet !
What was the product development like?
It was mostly Alex acting as a filter to my many bad ideas! It was also important to be guided by our intentions rather than working backwards from market research to fit some trends; we follow the creative process until we’re happy with the end product. In fact, we’ve worked on this for the past 18 months so it’s nice to be able to finally share the products. Looking ahead, because of our reliance on seasonal and vintage variations, we will enjoy a creative process of risk rather than certainty, forcing us to adapt.
How important was it to get the aesthetic of the products right, and what went into that process?
We were lucky to work with Gill (@thisisgill) and Galia (@monstrouspencil), both local in the South East, who guided us throughout. For a unisex range, we were also mindful not to have an overly masculine interpretation so everything clicked as we explored the options. But as products are a mix of the emotional and the logical, Pelegrims also has to stand for the efficacy of its products and Alex’s formulations are on a par with the design!
What's the inspiration behind the packaging?
We want to celebrate our ingredients so we asked Galia to hand draw illustrations of microscopic cut-troughs of the vines themselves. We also had some debates about whether to write the vintage on the bottles (2020 vintage for our launch products); it is a bit strange to sell a skincare product in 2021 and 2022 as you’d expect storytelling based on freshness etc. But being true to the origin of the core ingredients was more important than conventional thinking.