Established in 2008, Litmus Wines is owned and operated by John Worontschak, Mike Florence and Matthieu Elzinga and is based at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking, Surrey.
As the name suggests Litmus Wines is a catalyst for change. We convert grapes into wine, passion into business and strategic plans into sales success.
Nickname(s): JJ, Lord John Worontschak of Sealand
Family: Married to Ruth with an heir (Max) and a spare (Zak).
Abode(s): Notting Hill and the Swiss Alps
Born and bred: Adelaide, SA, Australia
Education: BSc (oenology) Charles Sturt University
Carpenter floor sweeper, Roll mop and sauerkraut maker, hardware store assistant, bedsprings maker and postman before vintage at Petaluma in 1977 and 1978. Wagga Wagga in 1980 and worked part time as the Ron Potter Scholar in the College winery. Followed by stints at Yalumba, Penfolds, Saltrams and Campbell’s before departing in 1985 in what was to become a 5 year sojourn with southern vintages at Yalumba and Penfolds (thrice), Hugel’s (twice), Domain Tim Marshall in Burgundy and finally at the Thames Valley Vineyards in Berkshire for the 1988 and 1989 harvests. Looking back on it hemisphere hopping doing vintages in the 80’s was really ahead of its time given how common the practise has become nowadays.
Did ok making English wines and set up a contract winemaking service called Harvest Wine Consultancy in 1990 in what was by then called Valley Vineyards. Followed this by setting up the Harvest Wine Group, a cooperative type selling organisation of the 13 English Vineyards that I consulted to and or made wine for. These ventures were really successful and a lot of fun. In retrospect, given the reputation of English wine in those days it may just have been a couple of decades before its time!
In 1993 at the beginning of the flying winemaker boom I began working with Ehrmanns and made wine for Tesco in the Czech republic and Brazil, followed by a crazy 7 years both making wines for UK retailers and consulting to wineries in England, Canada, California, Peru, Mexico, Turkey, Uruguay, Chile, Hungary, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Germany, India, France, Spain and Italy with my newly formed company Four Corners Consultancy, even flirting with the short lived Four Corners Brand of world wines with the catchy strap line of “liquid geography”. This was relatively successful and a lot of fun but in retrospect may have been a decade or so ahead of its time!
The flying winemaking era came to an end but I was kept busy consulting for wineries and investment banks around the world before teaming up with Sam Harrop in 2008 to create Litmus Wines.
Litmus Wines began life by combining our two consultancies with the intention of selling their wines in the UK and European markets. In 2009 we employed Mike Florence to manage the business and in 2011 I bought Sam’s share of the business when he decided to move on.
Mike and I relocated to Denbies in 2011 where we did contract winemaking, production consultancy, sales and a raft of other things. Matt joined the team in 2013 and the three of us became equal shareholders of the company in 2014. Together we created Litmus Wine Agencies in 2016 to better look after the growing sales side of the business which Chris Daniels heads up. It’s a really nice model that combines our strengths to provide clients with what they need and want.
To continue having fun I remain chief winemaker of Denbies and consult to a number of clients globally and reckon I may have finally, through longevity if nothing else, got the timing just about right this time.
Favourite Varietal: Riesling
Most Memorable Wine: 1990 Villa Bucci Verdicchio in 2001. It just shouldn’t have been!
Most Prized Possession: My Vinyl collection which is still growing after 45 years.
Favourite Album: Tampa Red
Guilty Pleasure: Occasional Havanna
Teams Supported: Australia in the Ashes.
What Litmus Wines means to you?: Fun
Nickname French frog legs with the Dutch head
Family Married to Marika. Three boys: Ismo, Joachim and Basil (not from Fawlty Towers)
Abode(s) Dorking and the Finnish lakes
Born and bred Paris (2 years), the Netherlands (13 years), France
Education Civil Engineer, Viticultural and oenological degree (Chateau de Briace)
Tulip bulb sorter, lawn mowing (big time), wood pallet builder, vineyard weed controller, vineyard planting, tank cleaner, cellar assistant during harvest – this all whilst studying.
As a Civil Engineer I helped build the railway tunnel under the Schiphol airport (Holland) but soon realised I didn’t like the builder’s tea.
I then decided to do the wine school in order to take over the family estate in the Muscadet. Started out as winemaker but was too young to stay in one place so went in search of greener pastures with my wife.
We set up a sales company in partnership with a Finnish company in the Paper Industry and travelled around Europe to sell high end and unique robotised lab equipment. Good fun but sadly this industry was not drinking enough wine.
We were based in Champagne and took it upon ourselves to learn the intricacies of Champagne production. The Champenois say, “If you want to know the secrets, you will have to get me drunk”. This was a costly exercise but paid off in the long run.
Enough of the Paper Industry, it was time to get back to the harbour and for 11 years I developed the family estate up to 210 hectares with my father and held the role of General Manager. Boredom set in and I soon became fed up with the French bureaucracy and wine standards. It all became dull and useless. The family decided to sell the Estate. As my wife and I were not rich enough to afford a couple of hectares in the Champagne, we then decided to come to England with in mind setting up our own vineyard (yes, ahead on Taittinger) and B&B.
But then the whole plan changed again. Litmus gave me the opportunity to run the 2013 vintage at Denbies so the family and I packed our bags and relocated in the UK. The kids soon had to learn English and I soon learnt how acid English grapes can be when not picked at the right time (I thought Muscadet and Gros Plant were the champions).
Myself, John and Mike soon became like old friends and while working very hard, we also spent a lot of time in after hours blinders. Still do actually. In 2014, I became an equal partner in Litmus Wines and we decided to expand this little gem into a precious high-end winemaking and consultancy business.
Note: kids speak fluent English now, mine is still with the Dutch accent.
Favourite Varietal Pinot Noir but prefer it white and fizzy
Most Memorable Wine – Chateau Margaux 1970 and all the wine we drank at our wedding
Most Prized Possession After my family it is my 2003 very loud Harley
Favourite Album Live Alchemy from Dire Straits
Guilty Pleasure Snickers at work
Teams Supported The Litmus Team
What Litmus Wines means to you? Drinkable and somehow epic
Born and bred – London
Education – I went to a girls school in North London before studying for a Journalism degree at the University of Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey.
For the past 10 years I have worked in PR representing an array of lifestyle, food and drink brands.
Favourite Varietal: Riesling
Most Memorable Wine: A bottle that my parents had kept from their wedding and we opened together on the night I announced my own engagement.
Most Prized Possession: My jewellery collection
Favourite Album: 21, Adele
Guilty Pleasure: Chocolate
Teams Supported: Arsenal
What Litmus Wines means to you? A passionate team dedicated to making quality English wines.
Nickname(s) Florry, Flozza, FF, Firenze
Position General Manager Monday to Friday and horizontal (with glass in hand) on weekends
Family Married to Sarah. Daughter Emilia (golden child) and son Cooper (wild child).
Abode(s) Epsom, West Wittering and Booborowie (when visiting the motherland)
Born and bred Glenelg, SA, Australia
Education or lack thereof
On the 16th of April 2021 our dear friend and partner Mike Florence died from Myeloma at the age of 46 after a six year battle. An integral part of our little company he is deeply missed and not a day goes by without us thinking of him.
Discovered my love for wine whilst working at the Edinburgh Cellars, Adelaide, SA, in the 90’s starting out as general dogs body and ending up as Assistant Manger. Fled the colony for what was supposed to be 9 months of backpacking throughout Europe whilst setting up base in the UK but lost my return ticket and still find myself here 20 years and counting later. Earned my stripes and cut my teeth at the International Wine Challenge throughout the noughties starting out as general dogs body and ending up as General Manger. Joined Litmus Wines in 2009 and haven’t looked back since.
Favourite Varietal Pinot Noir, with Riesling coming in a close 2nd
Most Memorable Wine – 1979 Leo Buring DW116 Riesling (tasted in 1995). John Vickery you’re a legend!
Most Prized Possession(s) It was my brown (with yellow racing stripes) 1979 Chrysler Lancer, nicknamed Leroy. Now it’s the wife, kids and shack at West Wittering.
Favourite Album Doolittle by the Pixies
Guilty Pleasure Listening to music…LOUD
Teams Supported Adelaide Crows (AFL), Australia at any sport and an affinity to Liverpool FC thanks to Craig Johnston, one of Australia’s all time greats.
What Litmus Wines means to you? Unique, diverse and a joy.