Eng­land’s sparkling wine revo­lu­tion

The wines are fly­ing off the shelves, even at Cham­pagne prices, and winer­ies across the UK are open­ing their doors to en­thu­si­as­tic tourists. Susie Bar­rie MW charts the rise of a boom­ing in­dus­try

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Susie Bar­rie MW is a widely pub­lished wine writer, au­thor and broad­caster

You’ll be aware of the fuss, so what’s it all about? Susie Bar­rie MW has the lat­est news

THE SCENE is a windswept field in Kent. The date: 3 May 2017. i am watch­ing the first vine of an am­bi­tious new 40ha (hectare) vine­yard be­ing planted. it’s an in­creas­ingly com­mon scene in the UK – a record-break­ing one mil­lion vines are due to be planted in 2017 – so on one level this oc­cur­rence is hardly news­wor­thy. That is, un­til you con­sider that the man wield­ing the spade is not only French, but also pres­i­dent of one of Cham­pagne’s lead­ing grande mar­que houses: Tait­tinger.

Never has there been a more ex­cit­ing time for the UK sparkling wine in­dus­try. The fact that no­table Cham­pagne houses Tait­tinger and Vranken-Pom­mery have re­cently bought land in Kent and hamp­shire re­spec­tively, with the in­ten­tion of mak­ing their own English fizz, speaks vol­umes about how se­ri­ously the UK is be­ing taken as a pro­ducer of world-class sparkling wine.

it’s no se­cret that a quiet revo­lu­tion has taken place in the in­dus­try over the past 25 years. But the pace of change has quick­ened con­sid­er­ably dur­ing the last decade, to the point where English sparkling wine is now a se­ri­ous global player with reg­u­lar ship­ments to 27 coun­tries. Given that we in the UK con­sume well over 100 mil­lion bot­tles of fizz per year, and to­tal pro­duc­tion of UK sparkling wine

‘The fact that no­table Cham­pagne houses have bought land here speaks vol­umes about how se­ri­ously UK sparkling is be­ing taken’

cur­rently av­er­ages fewer than 4 mil­lion, there is also sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial for ex­pan­sion on the home front, too.

if you’re con­sid­er­ing buy­ing English sparkling wine, it’s im­por­tant to ap­pre­ci­ate the level of qual­ity you can ex­pect, and to un­der­stand why the price-tag is closer to that of Cham­pagne than, for ex­am­ple, Pros­ecco. As a gen­eral rule, UK pro­duc­ers are mak­ing wines to a very high stan­dard, in rel­a­tively small quan­ti­ties, and of­ten with vir­tu­ally no ex­pense spared in terms of equip­ment, man­power and (tra­di­tional-method – ie, Cham­pagne style) wine­mak­ing.

And UK land prices are high, es­pe­cially when ven­dors get wind of the fact that their land might be suit­able for viti­cul­ture. ‘There’s a lot of hope value on land,’ says hugo Cor­ney of Court Gar­den in East sus­sex. Most vine­yard and win­ery equip­ment also has to be sourced from abroad. As sam Lin­ter of Bol­ney in sus­sex states: ‘Noth­ing is made in the UK; ev­ery­thing comes from Europe and we have to ship it in. This alone adds 50-60p to the cost of a bot­tle’.

it’s un­der­stand­able, then, that English sparkling wines aren’t cheap. But it’s the taste in the glass that mat­ters – and the vast ma­jor­ity of these wines can eas­ily stand com­par­i­son to good Cham­pagne at a sim­i­lar price.

In terms of style, UK pro­duc­ers make ev­ery­thing from clas­sic cu­vée (ie, a blend of va­ri­eties) to blanc de blancs, blanc de noirs and rosé. As a rule, winer­ies tend to launch their brand with a wine made from which­ever grapes ini­tially per­form best on their site, be­fore build­ing a range. It isn’t pos­si­ble as yet to say that the UK suits one style over an­other, although Chardon­nay as a grape va­ri­ety is show­ing par­tic­u­larly strong po­ten­tial.

Although most wines un­til now have been vin­tage dated, a key trend among pro­duc­ers is a move to non-vin­tage wines (a blend from dif­fer­ent years) for some of the range. It’s only pos­si­ble to make non-vin­tage wines once a stock of re­serve wines has been built up, so non-vin­tage is rarely an op­tion for new es­tates. Corinne Seely, wine­maker at Ex­ton Park in Hamp­shire, has been build­ing up re­serves since day one, with the in­ten­tion of mak­ing non-vin­tage wines a spe­cial­ity. As an aside, Seely re­leased a 100% Pinot Me­u­nier rosé last year, which is highly in­di­vid­ual and well worth seek­ing out. Lead­ing pro­ducer Ridgeview changed its Sig­na­ture range to non-vin­tage ear­lier this year and both Nyetim­ber and Hat­tin­g­ley Val­ley have re­cently moved their clas­sic cu­vée wines (plus rosé in the case of Nyetim­ber) to non-vin­tage, too.

It is not bet­ter or worse to make non­vin­tage rather than vin­tage wines. What it al­lows wine­mak­ers is a lit­tle more flex­i­bil­ity in tough years and the op­por­tu­nity to make a very con­sis­tent style of wine. It’s also

worth re­mem­ber­ing that it is per­fectly le­gal to in­clude 15% of pre­vi­ous vin­tages in a vin­tage­dated wine, and some wine­mak­ers pre­fer to ex­press the char­ac­ter­is­tics of each vin­tage. As Bol­ney’s Lin­ter states: ‘I like the vin­tage vari­a­tion and I’d like to stick to our her­itage [vin­tage wines].’

Beyond the wines them­selves, if there is one buzz­word in the in­dus­try at the mo­ment it is tourism. When I last wrote about English sparkling wine for this magazine two years ago, I men­tioned a hand­ful of winer­ies that were do­ing a par­tic­u­larly good job in this re­gard. One of those was Camel Val­ley in Corn­wall, a trail­blazer and one of the first English winer­ies to re­ally un­der­stand the value of wine tourism. Now, how­ever, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to speak to any win­ery owner with­out a gleam­ing new vis­i­tor cen­tre or tast­ing room be­ing men­tioned.

With many vine­yards now planted and winer­ies built, in­vest­ment is shift­ing to­wards the vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence. To sup­port this, a new in­ter­ac­tive UK wine map has been launched to guide an ever-grow­ing num­ber of ea­ger wine tourists ( visit www.en­glish­wine­pro­duc­ers.co.uk). As Richard Bal­four-Lynn of the pic­ture-per­fect Hush Heath Estate in Kent jokes: ‘Two years ago we had 1,500 vis­i­tors – and, to be hon­est, I think most of them were lost in the coun­try­side. Last year we had 18,000 vis­i­tors, and we’re ex­pect­ing 25,000 this year’.

It’s a bur­geon­ing side to the in­dus­try and one that lead­ing UK pro­ducer Chapel Down has re­cently em­braced with the open­ing of The Wine Sanc­tu­ary, a new tast­ing room at its site in Ten­ter­den, Kent. As MD Mark Harvey says: ‘The idea is to have a pre­mium of­fer, to raise the bar for English wine.’ The open­ing co­in­cided with the launch of a new range of wines from the Kit’s Coty vine­yard near Ayles­ford, in­clud­ing a pres­tige cu­vée that is Eng­land’s most ex­pen­sive wine to date.

Dy­namic scene

When it comes to note­wor­thy pro­duc­ers, there are now so many that it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to know where to be­gin. Of the larger play­ers, Hat­tin­g­ley Val­ley in Hamp­shire con­tin­ues to do an ex­cel­lent job with wine­mak­ers Emma Rice and Ja­cob Leadley mak­ing wines for a range of clients, as well as some ter­rific cu­vées un­der the Hat­tin­g­ley Val­ley la­bel. Rice and Leadley are tire­less in­no­va­tors and Hat­tin­g­ley was one of the first English pro­duc­ers to drive the ‘pres­tige cu­vée’ trend by re­leas­ing the

stun­ning King’s Cu­vée 2011 a cou­ple of years ago. Although now sold out, the next vin­tage (2013) is about to be launched, as is a new sparkling red.

There have been big de­vel­op­ments at Gus­bourne Estate in Kent. This sum­mer saw the open­ing of a new cel­lar-door space known as ‘The Nest’. As wine­maker Char­lie Hol­land says: ‘We see the de­vel­op­ment of oeno­tourism as the next key stage in the English sparkling wine scene.’ This fa­cil­ity is in­tended ‘as a des­ti­na­tion, smart and well-branded’ where vis­i­tors can en­joy an in-depth ex­pe­ri­ence of both the wine­mak­ing process and vine­yards.

Gus­bourne also has a new pres­tige cu­vée in the pipe­line, but it will be at least an­other year be­fore it is ready for re­lease. Hol­land’s pre­cise and el­e­gant style of wine­mak­ing suits ex­tended age­ing of wines prior to re­lease, so it should be worth the wait.

Like­wise at Nyetim­ber in West Sus­sex, the ar­rival of pres­tige cu­vée wines is im­mi­nent. Wine­maker Cherie Spriggs has made two: a white based on the 2009 vin­tage and a rosé based on 2010; both are due for re­lease ‘soon’, ac­cord­ing to Spriggs.

Nyetim­ber uses only estate-grown grapes for its el­e­gant and con­sis­tently im­pres­sive

‘We see the de­vel­op­ment of oeno­tourism as the next key stage in the English sparkling wine scene’. Char­lie Hol­land, Gus­bourne wine­maker (above)

range of wines. In terms of vine­yard lo­ca­tion, how­ever, Spriggs ex­plains: ‘Grapes don’t know what county they are planted in, but they do know if the site is high qual­ity.’ With this phi­los­o­phy in mind, the com­pany has ac­quired a 20ha site in Kent that will take to­tal vine­yard hold­ings to more than 240ha across Hamp­shire, Sus­sex and Kent. Also in the pur­suit of qual­ity, Nyetim­ber has a new, cus­tom-de­signed press­ing cen­tre in the heart of its Sus­sex vine­yard, to en­able swifter press­ing of the grapes post-har­vest.

With al­most all of the UK’s larger pro­duc­ers look­ing to in­crease ex­ports – the US in par­tic­u­lar is a new, po­ten­tially huge mar­ket – there is ar­guably still room for new projects. In 2011 Robert and Au­gusta Raimes planted two chalky sites near their farm at Tich­bourne in Hamp­shire, as a way of get­ting fam­ily and friends more in­volved in the work of the farm. The first vin­tage of Raimes, Blanc de Noirs (900 bot­tles of the 2013, made at Hat­tin­g­ley Val­ley) was a ter­rific first re­lease.

Over in Mar­low, Bucks, some se­ri­ously ex­cit­ing wines are start­ing to emerge from Harrow & Hope, a new project be­gun by Kaye and Henry Laith­waite. Henry has a lot to live up to as a mem­ber of the Laith­waite’s

Wine fam­ily, and there’s an air of healthy com­pe­ti­tion as you sit around the tast­ing ta­ble with Henry and his highly ac­com­plished wine­mak­ing mother Bar­bara. Bar­bara’s own wine, Wy­fold, is con­sis­tently su­perb. Laith­waite's also launched Wind­sor Great Park Vine­yard 2013 last year, a sparkling wine made by the Ridgeview team from vines planted and man­aged by Laith­waite’s. Henry and Kaye are more than liv­ing up to the fam­ily name, and it’s great to see a young and dy­namic pair mak­ing such strides.

Mike and Hi­lary Wagstaff took over Greyfri­ars in Sur­rey in 2010 and have spent the last seven years in­vest­ing in and ex­pand­ing the busi­ness. Apart from mak­ing some very de­cent wines, Mike is clearly a man on a mis­sion to get ev­ery­one in the UK drink­ing English sparkling wine. ‘The Cham­p­enois have spent the last 300 years brain­wash­ing us that if we’re cel­e­brat­ing, the drink to have is Cham­pagne,’ he says. ‘We need to be out there get­ting peo­ple ex­cited about drink­ing some­thing lo­cal.’

Bride Val­ley (owned by De­can­ter con­sul­tant editor Steven Spurrier), Furleigh and Lang­ham are now all well-es­tab­lished Dorset es­tates mak­ing world-class wines in a range of styles. The same can be said of Court Gar­den in Sus­sex, a win­ery that crept onto the scene a decade or so ago and has re­mained con­sis­tently im­pres­sive.

Of the rest, Am­briel and Black­down Ridge in West Sus­sex, Coates & Seely in Hamp­shire, Fox & Fox in East Sus­sex, and Squer­ryes in Kent are all worth seek­ing out. And for the fu­ture, Rathfinny in Sus­sex and Simp­sons Wine Estate in Kent have yet to re­lease wines, but will cer­tainly be ones to watch.

So to my rec­om­men­da­tions, which you must treat as merely a start­ing point. I could eas­ily have in­cluded three times as many wines. I’d there­fore urge UK read­ers to seek out their near­est win­ery, pay a visit and taste lo­cal wines where they are grown and made. We now have a world-class English prod­uct on our doorstep and, as wine lovers, it is surely no more than our duty to cel­e­brate that.

Above: Nyetim­ber uses only estate-grown grapes for its wines

Above: Chapel Down’s The Wine Sanc­tu­ary in Kent is one of many tast­ing rooms spring­ing up across the UK

Be­low: new pres­tige cu­vées in­clude Hat­tin­g­ley Val­ley’s Kings Cu­vée

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