Booming industry is producing world-class wine
After half a century, English sparkling wine producers are beating the champagne makers across the Channel at their own game. Fifty years ago, the likelihood of somebody cracking open a bottle of English sparkling wine and declaring it better than champagne was slim. The view was that Brits had their pick of the best European wines already – a rich claret or a crisp riesling. Then suddenly, English sparkling wine was beating champagne in blind taste tests and the market for domestically produced wine began to grow.
English sparkling wine has been on an upwards trajectory for the past decade: in 2015 Waitrose announced that customers were buying 80 per cent more English wine than at any time before. The French champagne house Taittinger has bought land in Kent and plans to produce a sparkling wine. England has become one of the world’s fastest-growing wine-producing regions, and the number of producers across south Wales and southern England has increased by 60 per cent.
Experts feel the positive change of mood may have come about because of a drive towards celebrating local produce. That, or age-old competitiveness: if France could do it, the UK could do it better. For example, the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée sparkling wine received special commendation – it has been producing wine for the past 25 years with the aim of making the wine one of the best in the world.
There are about 500 vineyards in England and Wales, with the most award-winning ones scattered around the south coast. Wines produced in West Sussex and the Camel Valley, Cornwall, are producing some of the UK’s best wines, increasingly drunk in British homes and restaurants.
Reds as well as fizz
English wine is now firmly on the map in many bars. For example, in London some of the most prominent venues now serve a glass of English fizz alongside their pan-European menu. Drink in the dazzling views of the River Thames from the Oxo Tower’s enormous windows while sipping on a Digby sparkling white, made with grapes grown predominantly in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. Or try one of Britain’s most exclusive wines – the Element 20 chardonnay – to pair with the restaurant’s celebration of British-sourced food. Gordon Ramsay even chose to serve English wines in his new Bordeaux restaurant.
Despite the success of British sparkling wine at international competitions, it would be remiss to suggest that they are the only decent British wines. Reds, often matured using oak, are increasingly being produced, although because of the damp and chilly UK winters they are often tougher to grow than a white or sparkling. Grapes including pinot noir and rondo work especially well in the chalky soils found in parts of Britain.
Only the beginning
It looks like the English wine market is only going to keep on growing. A paper published by the University of East Anglia found that, as a result of climate change, the £100 million English wine-producing industry will thrive in warmer weather. It also revealed that so far, higher temperatures have contributed to the UK’s 148 per cent boom in vineyards between 2004 and 2013.
Sam Linter is master wine maker and managing director of Bolney, a wine estate that is based in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. She is most excited about the energy that can be found in her burgeoning industry.
She says: “We all want to continue the progress we have made and make better, more exciting wines. There’s more still to come from England.
“[As far as Bolney wines are concerned] we have come from a starting point of little knowledge and poor production, through a big learning curve, and we are making internationally award-winning wines now.”
Ms Linter says the English wine industry is going from strength to strength. “I feel positive about the future of English wine. The industry has the right attitude to aid growth, development and quality.”
And surely we can agree that we ought to be raising a glass or two to that.