Nyetimber takes the title of worst press in 2017 so far...
Nyetimber has had a lot of bad press recently, whether it is reports that owner Eric Heerema smashed up glasses at the Savoy, to stories of unhappy staff, to links with Nazi SS. The PR people are struggling to spin a positive story to maintain the brand's luxury position.
Nyetimber started out in 1988 when two Americans Sandy and Stuart Moss decided to plant a sparkling wine focused producer. At the time this was very radical. Awards started to arrive shortly afterwards with Top Sparkling wine at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, for the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée 1993. The Queen even chose it for her 50th Wedding Anniversary bash. They lead the way and opened up the possibility of quality sparkling wines made to the traditional method. Ownership changed several times until Eric Heerema purchased Nyetimber in 2006. At the time Eric had a much larger vineyard about to come into production. The purchase allowed Eric to leverage the very small Nyetimber vineyard and brand into his much larger property. After a significant re-shuffle in the business Eric continued expanding his previous vineyards and turning the boutique producer into one of the larger UK producers.
Staff turnover had been very high in the early years with the role of sales manager changing hands numerous times. Back in 2009 Francis Brackley joined the team to replace Stephen Clark who only lasted a year. Then Christian Holthausen who came from Piper-Heidsieck joined in 2012 and left after 18 months in 2014. Recently, James Mason, Nyetimber’s most recent former head of sales, left. James, who is bringing an unfair dismissal claim, claimed half the workforce of 59 either quit or were sacked in less than two years because of Mr Heerema’s aggressive behaviour. Mr Mason, 41, told the hearing that Nyetimber was blacklisted by The Savoy after the Dutch tycoon flew into a rage, smashing glasses and insulting bar staff at a drinks reception sponsored by Nyetimber where Savoy waiting staff were serving drinks.
He claimed Mr Heerema swept a table full of Savoy-branded glasses on to the floor and shouted at a bartender during the event at the Burlington Arcade in London.
The incident is said to have prompted the head of food and drinks at The Savoy to write to Nyetimber saying that he would no longer do business with the vineyard because of Mr Heerema’s ‘appalling behaviour’.
Things took a decided dark twist when the Daily Mail searched into Eric family history uncovering that his Father was a Dutch SS officer during WW2. The mail claimed that his father Pieter Heerema expressed his fervent support of Nazism, giving a speech in which he spoke of the ‘model’ German race and adding: ‘The Jewish race by comparison is parasitic... therefore the Jewish question must be resolved in every Aryan country.’
While it is inappropriate to blame the sins of the father on the son, it seems that Eric’s fortune that he used to purchase Nyetimber appears to have been part of the £388 million profit made from selling his father’s engineering business.
For a luxury brand that trades on its brand perception, too much bad press makes for poor business.