A Day In The Life Of…

30 Apr 2014
4 min read
Henry Chevallier Guild tells us how he spends his day as the head of Aspall cyder and vinegars.

As well as being a successful modern business, undergoing an unprecedented phase of growth, Aspall is rooted in traditions. As one of the UK’s 10 oldest family-owned companies, it is already looking forward to its 300-year anniversary in 2028. Henry embraces the family traditions with his obsession for apples and orchards and spends much time developing new cyders from old family recipes.

Once I have dragged myself groggily from my bed, I wake myself up properly with yoga; then, not as often as I would like, 20-30 minutes of meditation. I’ve been practising both for over a decade now.

I’m extremely fortunate to live on the Aspall estate, so my commute to work when I am in Suffolk is through our orchards. It’s about a 10-minute walk, and any time of the year it’s a joy. Having said that, I struggle a little in the height of summer as it feels like I need a shower the moment I’ve walked through the office door.

My office is in the Lodge House at the end of the drive-in to both The Cyder House and Aspall Hall. There are two of us that share it, me and our head of technical, Colin. Colin has been with the business for nearly a decade and has been invaluable in helping us ensure that the quality of our liquids remains at the forefront of how the business operates. He also helps me articulate many of the ideas we have for new products and our mornings will often involve a conversation around products we are developing, or recounting what good things we have eaten and drunk in the last 24 hours.

As Aspall has grown, I don’t spend nearly as much time on site as I did 10, even five years ago. On certain levels it has been a struggle not being at the centre of everything going on, but we now have a fabulous team led by our MD Des Smith, who manage the business brilliantly on a daily basis. I try to get to see them all when on site, and this involves a tour round the factory whenever I can manage it.

We pride ourselves on being a family business, and this means doing our best to know everyone on site by name. I fail more often than I would like to get everyone’s names right; I like to think this is because the business is growing and becoming more dynamic but suspect I may simply be getting to that age when you just forget more stuff. Either way, I enjoy seeing everyone.

Whilst still responsible for shaping and defining the overall strategy at Aspall with my brother Barry and Des, my more specific ‘day to day’ role in the company these days is split between looking after our export business, working on new product development and sharing brand ambassadorial duties with Barry. He is chairman of Aspall, as well as being President of the European Vinegar Brewers and I am an executive member of The National Association of Cider Makers, having been chairman for three years. We’ll see each other most days I am on site and have a general catch-up outside the more formal strictures of a board meeting.

Like many people in business, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on a computer, and much of this time involves communicating with our various export partners around the world. Sometimes I will have made a call to New Zealand or Australia before breakfast, but on the whole the time zone difference is not too difficult to work round. Export business I am most excited about at the moment includes America and Australia – both countries are enjoying a huge cider boom; Germany and China are also seeing good growth for us, whilst a little closer to home we are enjoying good traction in Ireland.

With all the product development work going on there is often something to taste and Colin and I will do this around lunchtime. On Fridays, the team have a tasting of our base cyders as well as all the products we have packed in the previous week. I join in whenever I can. All cyders are scored for quality, and we keep very close records on this. It’s what we live and die by.

Invariably there will be a meeting to attend at some point during the day. Often they will be product and marketing related. We have tried to keep the family extremely close to the communication end of the business. The message we have and the story we tell is unashamedly sourced from the family and what we believe our company and brand stand for. At the same time, it is important that the team have their voice and identity as well. If their ‘personal brand’ isn’t able to shine, then it is unlikely the Aspall brand will shine either, so we try not to be too overpowering. I hope that we by and large succeed on that front.

I spend a lot of time abroad, mainly the US and Europe. I am also based in London for about ¼ of the month. Diary planning has never been my forte – I tend to try and squeeze in just that little bit too much, but I’m getting better at it, and if I’ve been successful on that front during the course of a day, I should be traversing the orchards home by about 6.30pm. This is a wonderful time; it’s such a great way to gather my thoughts on the day passed.

And not just that, on a clear winter’s night, it’s fabulous to experience the orchards in a completely different context – the bark of a deer, the hoot of an owl or the shooting of a star. Couple that with a glass of Aspall Premier Cru in hand once over the threshold, it truly is the perfect end to a perfect day.