Just below the Alpine areas of Veneto in Italy, is a valley blessed with the perfect climate for producing a dry sparkling white wine – something Tynedale’s Stuart Colmer just can’t resist.
IN a lush sun-drenched Italian valley in between the majestic Dolomite mountains and the sea in Valdobbiadene, there’s a vineyard that is fast earning a world-wide reputation for its fine wines. Here, just an hour and a half drive from Venice, 100,000 bottles of prosecco are produced every year at the Fasol Menin winery where quality not quantity is the focus. This is the heart of wine growing country and it’s far removed from Tynedale – or so you may think.
The link is dynamic Hedley-on-the-Hill wine importer Stuart Colmer. He is not just a firm friend of the Italian couple who gave up a career in IT to fulfil a dream and start their own vineyard – he’s their UK representative. And as joint organiser of the Northumbria Food and Wine Festival in Corbridge he’s in the perfect position to spread the word about this wine as it makes its way from sun-kissed Italy to Tynedale.
As a businessman with experience in many different ventures from cars to toys, Stuart is used to taking risks and watching them reap their rewards. A maths graduate from Newcastle, Stuart gained valuable business experience, before he had even finished university, when he won a placement with Ford in Essex and found himself travelling the world.
“I was still a teenager and I was working on projects in Sweden and Finland,” he said. “It gave me a taste for travel and for business.” The experience helped Stuart land a great job with Procter and Gamble after graduation. But it wasn’t just his logical, mathematical brain that impressed them. It was his willingness to give 100 per cent to any challenge.
“When I was a student I ended up on Noel Edmonds’ Late Late Breakfast Show as part of a team trying to beat the world record for jumping in and out of a pair of underpants in under a minute. And I made my way to New York to meet the Mayor in a 72-hour fund-raising travel challenge for Children In Need.” An interesting and varied career has seen Stuart work with Viasystems and Photobition where, as chief informations officer, he was asked to fly out to America, only to find himself stranded in the wake of 9/11.
“I was lucky. I was nowhere near the disaster site. But there were no flights home and I just wanted to be back, in Northumberland, with my wife, Katy, and our two children Jack and Eleanor. 9/11 really made me assess what I was doing, travelling around the world, working long hours, when I just wanted to spend more time with the people I loved.”
When Stuart finally got home he decided to go for it and become his own boss, setting up his own consultancy, Strategies To Solutions.
Other money-making ideas were soon coming thick and fast, largely based on the power of the internet to maximise the potential of businesses big and small. Stuart’s toys website, Pedal Pushers, was inspired by a trip to Alnwick Gardens with his son, Jack, who spent the whole visit ignoring the spectacular water features to play on the toy trucks.
Other business consultancy work followed with Stuart helping to draft a bill on the complex issue of CRB checks in the wake of the Soham murders. Helping the elderly and disabled to lead independent lives with a range of new equipment and technologies has also been a focus alongside working as a mentor in e-commerce.
Strategies To Solutions continues to go from strength to strength with Stuart helping a huge variety of businesses to design, build and use their own websites.
And now he has his own shop, “be” in Stocksfield selling wine, food, gifts and accessories.
But at the backdrop of Stuart’s rollercoaster career has been his increasing passion for wine, inspired by his friendship with former IT consultant Massimo de Nardo who now runs the vineyard at Fasol Menin.
The technical world of IT and the sumptuous world of fine wines don’t seem the most comfortable of bedfellows at first glimpse. But it is this combination of business and technical acumen, flavoured with a hefty dose of creative flair, that have helped the Italian vineyard become such a success.
“Massimo and I hit it off from day one when we met in my P&G days all those years ago,” said Stuart. “I am no wine buff but I have always appreciated a good wine. And Massimo has inspired me with his passion for prosecco. As his UK rep I have the best job in the world. And I can’t wait to share our story at this year’s festival in August.
“We are not about supplying Tesco or going global. Massimo is determined that quality is not sacrificed for quantity and he will produce only 100,000 bottles a year – no more. But that’s what makes this wine so special.”