Family has brewery at its core

PUBLISHED: 12:56 05 October 2007 | UPDATED: 21:49 29 May 2010

Franco Davanzo with a bottle of his finest cider – Pic: Michael Boyton

Franco Davanzo with a bottle of his finest cider – Pic: Michael Boyton

WITH the current vogue for locally produced produce, it is heartening to find a brewery that produces award-winning ales and ciders just outside Felsted. Franco Davanzo and his family have owned the Felstar Brewery in Crix Green since 2000, but its histor

WITH the current vogue for locally produced produce, it is heartening to find a brewery that produces award-winning ales and ciders just outside Felsted.

Franco Davanzo and his family have owned the Felstar Brewery in Crix Green since 2000, but its history goes back well before that and is the oldest commercial vineyard in East Anglia.

"I had been into real ales for many years when we brought the vineyard," said Mr Davanzo.

"When we got here, many of the old vines needed replacing, which they usually need approximately every 30 years, so it seemed like a good idea to start up the brewery."

Seven years later and the walls of the brewery shop are littered with awards proving the quality of the beers that Franco produces with the help of his wife Sarah, daughter Anna and son Robert, not to mention the countless friends who happily come to pitch in with picking the grapes.

"We are at that awkward size where we are too small to employ people, but too large not to need people to help at times," explained Franco. "We make it a fun occasion and have a barbecue."

Life as a brewer in the English countryside is one that is far removed from Franco's native Venice where he lived for 20 years, hardly ever seeing a tree.

He has embraced life in the country and says he is a very lucky man to have such marvellous friends and neighbours. When he talks about his work and produce, his eyes light up and he positively glows.

"I think it is important to be enthusiastic about your work. When people come in here, they don't want to see long faces, so, even when the weather's bad, there's always something positive to be about," he says after chatting to a new customer who has just returned an empty beer keg, glowing with reports of how well it went down.

"For me, the feedback I get from customers is possibly more important than the beer. If I can see they are happy, then I am happy.

"I know they will return. I don't want to produce a beer that someone doesn't want to drink again."

Franco says he is never fully happy with a beer and that he is always trying something new,

finding a way to improve on an already good recipe, saying the day he doesn't want to improve is the day it all goes downhill."

It is maybe this ethos that meant his was the only brewery that was invited to attend the recent Bruges Beer Festival in Belgium.

"One question I am often asked is what the difference is between a large and a micro-brewery," said Franco. "My answer is that a large brewery always produces an average beer, always striving to produce the same taste.

"Their beer is fine but never great. In a micro-brewery, we strive to produce fantastic ale and we have the freedom to choose and change our ingredients to try to achieve that."

And he must have the winning formula as they are sought-after all over the world.

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