No sign of sour grapes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Tip­top drop: Ridgeview wine es­tate is pro­duc­ing award-winning sparkling wine on the site of a for­mer builders’ dump in East Sus­sex

While other new es­tates across south­ern Eng­land will have to wait sev­eral years for their wines to be­come avail­able, one rel­a­tive new­comer, Richard Bal­fourLynn, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Mal­mai­son and Ho­tel du Vin ca­ter­ing group, who planted 1.6ha of cham­pagne grapes at his Hush Heath es­tate in Kent, has seen his Bal­four Brut Rose win a gold medal at the 2008 In­ter­na­tional Wine Chal­lenge.

‘‘ My aim is to pro­duce the finest rose sparkling wines, com­pa­ra­ble with the great Rose cham­pagnes,’’ Bal­four-Lynn says. And at nearly £30 a bot­tle, he’s clearly aim­ing at the same high-spending cus­tomers.

And it is po­ten­tially a huge mar­ket. Of the 2.1 mil­lion wine bot­tles pro­duced in Eng­land ev­ery year, 300,000 are sparkling, but the in­dus­try is aim­ing to reach 3.7 mil­lion sparkling bot­tles by 2015. Even then, that is still only about 10 per cent of the present av­er­age an­nual Bri­tish con­sump­tion of cham­pagne, the big­gest mar­ket out­side France. And the French can­not make enough to go around.

Hav­ing es­tab­lished them­selves as classy enough to be sold at Har­rods and served at gov­ern­ment and royal func­tions, sparkling wine pro­duc­ers en­vis­age huge ex­port po­ten­tial, ap­ing the model set by Scot­tish malts, English gin or lux­ury Bri­tish brands such as Burberry.

The omens are good. One of the un­like­li­est suc­cesses for English sparkling wine came in 2007 when Theale Vine­yard Sparkling, made at Ridgeview, from a south­fac­ing for­mer builders’ dump, came eighth in the world at the re­spected Ef­fer­ves­cents du Monde com­pe­ti­tion, beat­ing sev­eral cham­pagnes. Only 900 bot­tles are made, some sold in Bri­tain’s houses of par­lia­ment.

So, what do th­ese wines taste like? Ridgeview pro­duces three wines: the Cavendish is a blend of the three grapes, the Fitzrovia a rose, but Mardi Roberts first pours a glass of chilled Blooms­bury, made from mainly chardon­nay grapes. The bub­bles rise in col­umns, the sure sign of a well-made wine, cre­at­ing a fine, soft mousse at the head. The sun shines on the vines and through the win­dows and, af­ter a long morn­ing, the taste of the sparkling bub­bles is, well, sim­ply sen­sa­tional. And that, more than any­thing else, is surely some­thing to cel­e­brate. The In­de­pen­dent www.ridgeview.co.uk www.nyetim­ber.com www.en­glish­wines­group.com www.breaky­bot­tom.co.uk www.mal­mai­son.com

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