Mark Dixon, self-made billionaire and CEO of IWG, a leading flexible-workplace company, has been building businesses since the age of 16. Born in the village of Danbury, England, Dixon, the son of a car mechanic, knew that school was not for him. Instead, he decided to become his own boss, delivering sandwiches to customers on his bicycle.
“I realized, though, I needed more experience. So I set off to travel around the world,” says Dixon, “I read about St. Tropez in the newspapers, and I thought, ‘Now that looks like an exciting place!’ So I left for St. Tropez. I hitchhiked there. I had no real plan, only to get real work and figure it out.”
In the south of France, Dixon learned French and worked a variety of jobs in boatyards, restaurants and nightclubs. Decades later, in 2007, he longed to return. This time, though, he didn’t have to hitchhike to get there: Dixon’s company, then called Regus, was already a leading global provider of coworking spaces. Today, IWG is the biggest company in its field, with flexible workspace locations in 120 countries and over 3,500 buildings. Visiting St. Tropez in 2007 with his son, Dixon came across a derelict wine estate for sale called Château de Berne. And just like that, Dixon entered into the wine industry.
As of 2020, Dixon, 60, owns four wine estates in Provence, which span 735 acres of vines, and exports six cuvées, all rosé, to the United States. More recently, he has added three sparkling-wine estates in southern England to his portfolio. Dixon has big ambitions for his estates, and three of his children, Holly, Sophie and Josh, work in the new family wine business. Associate editor Gillian Sciaretta sat down with Dixon to discuss his wine projects, his thoughts on the future of English sparkling wine, his dream of becoming a full-time farmer and his other surprising passion.
Wine Spectator: You have four estates in Provence. In addition to wineries, they all have hospitality components, including luxury hotels and fine-dining restaurants. Is this all part of a bigger plan?
Mark Dixon: What I am trying to do in a small way is create a Napa Valley or a Stellenbosch in Provence. Trying to create different things for different people. Some people are more interested in the farming side, some people more on the restaurant side, and some people just [like] walking and being outside. Château de Berne, for example, is great for walking. And I’m trying to create the synergies between all of them. It’s still a work in progress; we’re still adding more.
WS: Are you planning on planting more vines at these estates?
MD: Yes, we’ve planted quite a bit more, and we will definitely buy more land in 2020. We’ve got growing demand, in particular for rosé and also the white wines; the Rolle is very popular. The adventure continues. And also the wine tourism part, it’s something that is actually starting to drive more interest in the area and in the wine itself.
WS: You seem to like farming.
MD: Look, it’s my relaxation. I used to play golf many years ago, but I’ve given up golf and have taken up farming as something to do on the weekends. But having said that, what I find is that there are many, many lessons I have learned through becoming a farmer that I have applied to a high-paced business, which is the business I do during the week, IWG. So there’s a lot of tradition in the way you do things with farming to keep it there for a long time, which you can apply to the world of business, everyday business.
WS: Such as?
MD: Replanting. When do you have enough vines missing to say, “Let’s just start again”? [Farming] is a slower business, but it is something that needs care and attention, planning, avoiding mistakes. It’s a people business, with a lot of different people.
WS: What are your thoughts on the rosé wine boom, especially Provence rosé?
MD: The reason I like Provence rosé is because it's a high-quality rosé. I think people are drinking less but want more quality. And with a Provence rosé, it's strictly regulated.
I think rosé has more applications as well. We've been trying out rosé that is slightly oaked. It's wine you can drink at Christmas that's got some legs. It extends the range a bit more, so it's not just something you have in the summer or on the beach.
Overall, I suppose my fear is that if you get too many volume producers that aren't focused on quality, you don't want them to undermine the market that's getting more and more popular. That would be very bad.
WS: You now have three wineries in England. When did that venture start?
MD: About four years ago. For me it’s about land investment as well. With Brexit, the cost of good-quality English land has come down quite a bit, so what was an unreasonable price became a reasonable price. But I am a believer in agriculture in the U.K. The wine in the U.K. can have fantastic quality, so I see a lot of opportunities there.
So we’ve now got Kingscote, Sedlescombe—which is Britain’s oldest biodynamic vineyard, that we’ve enlarged upon—and then the newest one is Luddesdown, which is the biggest. In total, we’re going to get up to about 1,000 acres of vines, which is the target. The objective is to get to about 4 or 5 million bottles total in production. We make about 200,000 bottles at the moment.
[It’s] all for sparkling. I think there is a market for good-quality English sparkling wine. You know everyone talks about how it’s the new Champagne. I think it's something similar to Champagne, but it is different and gives people some variety.
WS: Like in Provence, are you planning on adding hospitality components to your English wine estates?
MD: Oh, yes. Sedlescombe is very busy with vineyard visits. That’s the biodynamic one. One of my daughters, Sophie, runs it. So it’s similar to Château Saint Roux [in Provence], very farm-to-table. It’s very authentic. It’s combining the lessons we’ve learned in France. It’s a new frontier, the English wine. As long as we stick to it—it’s never going to be France—we can make some quality wines that complement the wine around the world.
It’s a great adventure, life, and I never really thought I would go as far as I have on this journey, not just in business but also in wine. I have always been fascinated by it. But this latest journey, which is farming, it’s the most challenging yet the most fulfilling.
WS: You also have a love for collecting vintage cars. How did you get into that?
MD: Well my father worked for the Ford Motor Company his entire life, so he's a bit of a car nut. I was never a car nut; at least, I didn't realize it. I bought one old car, and then I bought more. It's one of these things that I sort of got interested in. And these are very old cars. My oldest car is from 1892. I do rallies in them like the London to Brighton. But not quickly with this car: These cars go about 8 miles an hour. So I am leaving at about 7 in the morning and getting in at about 8 at night, about 100 miles.
WS: What are some of your favorite cars in your collection?
MD: My favorite are the Léon Bollées. Léon Bollée was a fantastic engineer. He was actually also involved with the first aircraft that ever flew. And these were some of the first cars. So one [that I own] is from 1900 and the other is an 1892 single-cylinder. They are works of art, these cars, that's the thing. It's fantastic to see how the technology changed so quickly. It's a bit like technology today, but in those days it was the internal combustion engine and its development between 1890 to 1920. It changed every three months, a huge innovation.