Winston Churchill's Story

Taste of Place Trails Stories

Winston Churchill’s story is, first and foremost, a love story. Growing up as the son of a gamekeeper in East Anglia, he always dreamed of the Scottish Highlands and living the life of a deerstalker in the pine forests and wild, heathery moors. In 1983 he made the move north of the border, to work as a deerstalker for a forestry company on the Cowal Peninsula. The land he had always dreamed of lived up to his expectations and he fell in love first with the landscape of Argyll and its magnificent red deer, then with a local girl named Anne.

How it all began

In 1988 Winston left the forestry company and started a small deer stalking business of his own with the support of Anne who, by that time, had become his wife. He jokingly describes himself then as “a young man with lots of energy and a considerable amount of naivety” but, despite this, his new business venture was a success. As the years passed and the business grew, Winston was able to employ local people and contribute to the local community. He became frustrated, though, that this local community didn’t have access to the venison that was being produced on their land. Their business model had, until that point, been to sell whole carcasses to a dealer who would then export them out of the country. Winston says that in the 1990s the collective cull was “around 2000 deer per year on the peninsula, and yet a local person couldn’t buy a bit of venison. There seemed something drastically wrong in that.” The larger companies didn’t see value in selling a leg of venison, for example, when they were used to dealing in whole carcasses. He set out to change that and, initially, Winston Churchill Venison started selling small amounts of their meat to local people – Winston estimates about 2% of their venison would be sold locally while the remaining 98% was shipped off as before. Over time, though, that percentage of venison staying at home started to grow, as did the number of deer they were handling, and by the year 2000 they realised they needed their own purpose-built larder where they could butcher and process larger quantities of meat. Now, they employ two full-time butchers and four full-time stalkers, processing around 500 deer carcasses a year.

More organic than organic

Winston says that what makes his venison special is “the provenance of it being from these hills”, the animals being able to roam freely through the forests of Argyll and live a natural life. Despite venison not being officially certifiable as organic, Winston describes his meat as “more organic than organic… they live on these hills, they eat what nature intends them to eat and it is, in our opinion, as good a place as we can be.” They do their best to interfere with the produce as little as possible, to ensure its natural flavour and character shine through; “we do our best to handle it in the best way we can to ensure that it’s a quality meat”.

A sustainable choice of meat

Winston also speaks about the sustainability of venison, in comparison to farmed meats such as beef or pork; “wild venison must be the most environmentally friendly red meat there is, because they’re here whether we want them or not, whereas with farming animals you farm the quantity according to the demand, so as the demand goes up more and more animals will be bred to service that.” He also argues that, as deer eat trees which absorb carbon-dioxide, controlling the population of deer means trees are able to offset more carbon. More than offsetting carbon or caring for the forests, though, Winston says he is “driven by passion”. It is obvious that he loves this way of life and lives and breathes deer stalking, with this passion driving him to start and grow his business through all its changes and evolutions.

What does the future hold?

Winston and Anne raised two sons to be keen deer stalkers, and their elder son Angus is following in his father’s footsteps to help run the family business. Winston says “I would love to see it continue along the lines that it is. We never had ambitions to take it beyond a small family business and we’ve managed to keep it that way.” With local people and honest, high-quality produce at the heart of this family business, and his son in line to take over the helm, it seems that Winston’s legacy will continue for a long time to come.

 

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