English wines are enjoying a renaissance at the moment. According to Julie Trustram-Eve of English Wine Producers, retail sales for wine made from grapes grown in England and Wales are predicted to rise to £100m in 2015 when final figures are in. The industry produced a record breaking 6.3m bottles in 2014 and is expecting another bumper year in 2015. English wines are now a regular feature at award ceremonies and state occasions. UK retailers reported a huge increase in sales of English wines last Christmas and Taittinger recently became the first Champagne house to purchase prime vineyard land in Kent.
It wasn’t that long ago that English wines were regarded as something of a joke. Even 10 years ago there still weren’t many plantings of what have become the three most important grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier – used mainly for producing sparkling wine. Recent investments in vineyard plantings and winery equipment from a number of entrepreneurs are beginning to reap rewards. According to renowned fizz expert Tom Stevenson “With 13 Gold medals and 11 Silvers, England was the third most successful sparkling wine country in last year’s Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships. If English sparkling wine can build a world class reputation and achieve the competitive success to match it on such young vineyards and with very little reserve wine, imagine what might be achieved as the vineyards mature and producers build up their reserves.”
The wine estate that fi red the starting gun on the new breed of English wines was Nyetimber in West Sussex. It’s Classic Cuvee still sets the benchmark for English sparkling wine and indeed the Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2010 won the trophy in the English category of the 2015 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships. They were followed by Ridgeview, the award-winning family run producer at Ditchling Common in East Sussex.
Land prices and the lack of economies of scale, not to mention the labour intensiveness of making sparkling wines by traditional bottle fermented method, mean that prices are in the £23-35 range. Make no mistake though as these wines are right up there in quality terms with similarly prices Champagnes.
Still wines are also improving with every vintage. Bacchus has led the way but there are some excellent whites being made from Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Ortega and other grape varieties – sometimes single variety sometimes blends – but usually with a distinctive whiff of hedgerows, elderflower and citrus fruits. Gerard Bassett MW MS OBE commented recently that English wines remind him of New Zealand in the 1980s.
The future is bright and full of bubbles.