BET­TER THAN THE FRENCH Vic­to­ria Moore says English fizz now beats cham­pagne

Our sparkling wine is ex­cep­tional, and it’s all down to the grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion of a hand­ful of wine­mak­ers

BBC Good Food - - Inside Goodfood - Vic­to­ria Moore @how_­to_­drink @plan­etvic­to­ria

Never ask Ian Kel­lett about his spread­sheets. The founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ham­ble­don Vine­yard in Hamp­shire is a for­mer mar­ket an­a­lyst and be­fore he put a sin­gle vine in the ground, he cre­ated a spread­sheet. ‘Each page has 150 col­umns and there are 40 pages. It looks for­ward 15 years, month by month. You change one num­ber, say the cost of a trel­lis­ing post, and the whole thing re­builds it­self…’. He would have car­ried on, if I hadn’t dis­tracted him with a ques­tion about grapes.

And you thought that sparkling wine was all about hav­ing fun. Well, it is. But never un­der­es­ti­mate the ex­tra­or­di­nary ob­ses­sion that goes into cre­at­ing each and ev­ery beau­ti­fully poised bot­tle of bub­bles. Mak­ing sparkling wine by the tra­di­tional method – fer­ment­ing it in the bot­tle, like they do in cham­pagne, rather than pump­ing it full of bub­bles, as they do in pros­ecco – is a long game. We’re talk­ing three years be­fore you can pick the grapes, an­other two (at least) be­fore you can re­lease the wine – longer if the wine is very good as the bet­ter the wine, the longer it needs to age in bot­tle. Then, you have to con­tend with op­er­at­ing in a mar­ginal cli­mate, where frost at the wrong time, or too much rain, can wipe out an en­tire year’s in­come. To be suc­cess­ful you need am­bi­tion, a Kel­let­tian level of at­ten­tion to de­tail, strate­gic think­ing, and a readi­ness to think in terms of decades (al­most cen­turies) and across gen­er­a­tions when it comes to build­ing a busi­ness. Is this why the English wine in­dus­try is pop­u­lated by peo­ple with as much grit as an RAF pi­lot who finds him­self in a tight spot? You can take that fig­ure of speech lit­er­ally. Bob Lindo, who planted vines at Camel Val­ley in 1989, is a for­mer RAF pi­lot who broke his spine in an avi­a­tion ac­ci­dent, so left the ser­vice early and went to live on his Cornish farm. He was still in pretty bad shape – un­able to sit or stand – when the elec­tric fence came down, ‘So I crawled round on my side mend­ing it. That was the be­gin­ning of do­ing things.’

We’ve reached a point where English sparkling wine can chal­lenge its French coun­ter­part. Ours is a tiny in­dus­try, but we still have over 500 com­mer­cial vine­yards and a turnover of £132 mil­lion a year. I’m ex­cited about the po­ten­tial shown by sin­gle-year wines with more age­ing: Coates & Seely and Wis­ton both pro­duced tremen­dous ex­am­ples from grapes grown in 2009 and 2010 re­spec­tively. I’m also look­ing for­ward to the re­lease this sum­mer of the first sparkling wine from Rathfinny Es­tate, es­tab­lished in 2010 on the South Downs. It has a £5.5 mil­lion Riba-nom­i­nated win­ery, ac­com­mo­da­tion, walk­ing trails… did some­one say am­bi­tion? No short­age of that here.

next month

Vic­to­ria’s pick of the best spring wines Vic­to­ria Moore is an award-win­ning wine colum­nist and au­thor. Her book, The Wine Dine Dic­tionary (£20, Granta), is out now.

The English wine in­dus­try is pop­u­lated by peo­ple with as much grit as an RAF pi­lot in a tight spot

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