All that’s missing from my conversation with Sam Howard, owner of Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss and director of HarperWells Wine is a good glass of wine. I’m surrounded by handpicked bottles, each producer named and known to Sam. Every product in the shop has a face and a story behind it. I am enthralled and engaged by this passionate and entertaining expert, it feels like I ought to be at a dinner party or maybe one of Fredricks' wine tasting evenings. I’m learning so much about wine, provenance and having fun - if only I wasn’t working!

Where to start? Sam and Lisa Howard are the owners of Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss. They took it on during the pandemic and have continued to grow the business and flourish. Their strong beliefs are behind the success of both the wine and food sides - those of provenance and community. Sam’s background in wine has enabled him and his family to travel the world and maybe this story starts in the Cayman Islands with Hurricane Ivan taking everything that Sam and Lisa owned and highlighting what really mattered. Returning to East Anglia with their two small children and just the clothes on their backs, Sam knew that he didn’t want to be involved with big business again, that people mattered most. The destruction he witnessed which left the island’s hospital with no power but the banks in their hurricane proof buildings still operating couldn’t have made this clearer. Initially living in Bury St Edmunds they discovered a local haven for wine in Wyken Vineyards and then Norwich wine company HarperWells got in touch 'because they knew I could pour a glass of wine’.

Great British Life: Sam at one of their wine tasting events. Photo: contributedSam at one of their wine tasting events. Photo: contributed

'The wine trade is full of lovely people,' says Sam with a smile and through it he met Freddie Jones, the Michelin-starred chef who created Fredricks. Sam got to know him and was soon supplying the wine and his expertise to Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss. When Freddie made the decision to retire he offered Sam the chance to buy the business, but Sam felt he wasn’t ready. Instead local couple John and Juliette took it on and extended the delicatessen offering with a greater emphasis on wine. Alas lockdown arrived and the catering side struggled at this difficult time, but the wine did not. This turned out to be the right moment for Sam and Lisa to take it on. Lisa’s teaching job had come to a natural end and they had the confidence to finally make Fredricks their own.

'All good wine shops should be a community space.'

Sam is passionate about great wine being enjoyable for everyone. If you browse the shelves of Fredricks you’ll see accessibly priced bottles from around the world. He repeatedly says that wine is an ‘agricultural product’ from which you can make and craft something amazing. He wants to allow his customers into the world of wine rather than make it just about the contents in the bottle. He tells me he likes to ensure 'customers gain an insight into the wine world and each individual person behind the bottle. They all have a story to tell and it’s what sets a good independent shop apart.'

Great British Life: Lisa in the kitchen with the team preparing for one of their theme evenings. Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss. Photo: contributedLisa in the kitchen with the team preparing for one of their theme evenings. Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss. Photo: contributed

Next to all these ‘stories’ lining the shelves are their own wines with a story to tell. Previous owners Juliette and John stayed in touch and teamed up with Sam to help regenerate their 17-year-old vineyard in Burston and introduce greater sustainable practices in the winemaking process. They are now on their fourth harvest of a five year plan to producing Borrowed Origins wine, created with grapes from these old vines (usually scrapped after 25 years in commercial vineyards). He believes ‘old vines give a more complex flavour’, the longer they are in the ground the more minerals and flavour are derived from the soil. They are working with other local wineries and hope this year to be part of the Lost Vineyard Preservation Society to create a unique and delicious blend. Sustainability isn’t just managing and revitalising this Norfolk vineyard but also thinking about how it is bottled and marketed. The last two years they have used and tried out innovative paper and recycled packaging but this year they are back to bottles, but preloved. Rather than customers taking their wine bottles to the bottle bank they are being encouraged to bring them back to hold more wine and save energy, transport costs and waste.

Good wine is best enjoyed with delicious food and great company. During the summer, part of Diss’s Heritage Triangle was transformed into a little piece of Athens. Fredricks’ Greek Agora evening transported many from the local community to the Med with food sourced and prepared by Lisa, impeccably matched with drinks from Sam. It was one of many events that showcase their core values of community and origin. Recent local wine tastings have included not just wines from around the world, but a locally distilled rum made from sugar beet, alongside an opportunity to talk to the makers – yet more passionate people pouring their hearts into their thoughtful products.

Collaboration with local producers and other vineyards are just part of the plans and projects racing around HarperWells and Fredricks. Look out for a pinot noir skin contact gin, a new shop just over the border in Halesworth and the broadening of the wine drinking community with innovative distribution schemes on the horizon. It seems the story is only just beginning for this couple….

Great British Life: Lisa in the kitchen with the team preparing for one of their theme evenings. Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss. Photo: contributedLisa in the kitchen with the team preparing for one of their theme evenings. Fredricks Fine Foods in Diss. Photo: contributed