Getting a business off to a flying start doesn’t come any better than Claire Norton and her partner Peter’s experience in the past two months.
They took over the already successful Little Red Berry Company based at Copt Hewick near Ripon in October and since then they have bagged a Deliciously Yorkshire Taste award for their Damson Gin Liqueur; have attended countless Christmas fairs and events; and were surrounded with bottles and packages going out to farm shop stockists or as gifts when I visited last week.
Factor in that Claire also has two sons Charlie, 10, and Billy, 8, that need the school run every morning and the couple have their one-year old daughter Lyra; plus there is Claire’s role as troop staff sergeant to a troop of 28 in York where she currently works two weekends a month plus Tuesday nights having returned after 12 months’ maternity leave that has seen her serve 17 years in the Reserve Royal Signals; plus there is also Peter’s full-time role as Reserve with the Queen’s Own Yeomanry following his 32 years regular service and you have an idea as how busy they like to be – and even that is leaving out their sporting exploits.
“I was looking for something to keep me occupied and a different income stream,” says Claire in quite the understated manner. “In my 17 years with the Signals I’ve taken every opportunity to go places not just the army tours. I’ve been skiing, adventure training and cycling often spending two to three days a fortnight away.
“This time I wanted to make sure that I am always around for Lyra, as I feel I missed some time with my boys. This popped up. Rachel Jamieson had started it in 2006 and it is a great business.
“Peter and I saw it as a really good, strong company that utilises fresh local produce. It’s all about handmade liqueurs that taste amazing without the need for any artificial flavouring. We liked it, thought about it but not for too long and bought it.
“We won Best Yorkshire Spirit for the Damson Gin Liqueur and that was a tremendous feeling not just for us and our team here but also Fiona Peacock, the lovely lady who handpicks all our dansoms and sloes from the hedgerows where she lives. Fiona’s mum also supplies the blackberries for our blackberry whisky.
“Knowing that most of what we use is sourced locally with blackcurrants from Side Oven Bakery at Carr House Farm, Foston on the Wolds in East Yorkshire; strawberries and raspberries from Spillman’s fruit farm in Sessay; thyme for our lemon and thyme flavoured gin from Herbs Unlimited at Sand Hutton and rhubarb for our rhubarb vodka is a great feeling that we are all in it together producing liqueurs that everyone enjoys.
“This has been one of the busiest eight weeks I’ve had in a long time and we’ve been everywhere across the county from three weeks in York for the St Nicholas Market to Ripon Cathedral, Brighouse Christmas Market, Wentworth Woodhouse and Guisborough Hall.
“We’ve attended all of the events that Rachel had in previous years and added Wentworth Woodhouse. We took our mobile horse box bar and sold mulled wine cocktails too.”
Claire and Peter’s initiation to the world of stocking farm shops, meeting online orders and particularly attending fairs and events at this time of year has proven an ideal opportunity to talk with customers first hand and find out the kind of preferences they have for new flavours at a time when gin varieties and gin liqueurs have never been more popular.”
“We’ve been able to get a great deal of feedback that will help us with our plans for the future,” says Peter. “We already have three flavoured vodkas, five gins and the blackberry whisky but by listening to our customers we can see where we can introduce more lines to take the business further forward and meet demand.
“Our blackberry whisky is hugely popular as is the elderberry and cucumber gin liqueur. We also have a Christmas pudding gin liqueur.
“We are happy to discover wherever there may be Yorkshire produce to marry up to provide a new variety and add to our portfolio. So you never know what might be coming next year.”
Claire and Peter have certainly hit the ground running taking over the business when they have but they are no strangers to keeping up the pace from their army careers.
Claire has competed for the Royal Signals Corps ladies road cycling team in the armed services championships finishing fourth one year and Peter was a fell runner and took part in orienteering championships.
The couple both have past links with the countryside other than cycling and running. Claire had a farm in Stanley near Wakefield where she schooled horses before selling them; and Peter moved north from Tooting in London with his parents when he was 11 to a hill farm overlooking Ingleborough.
“We had sheep, stirks and chickens,” says Peter. “I helped our dairy farm neighbour. And now I’m back working with local produce.”