No sign of sour grapes
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