England finds its Sparkle

English wine has come of age and can now bear comparison with what the rest of the world’s wine producers can offer. Christian Davis reports

English Wine Producers recently exhibited for the first at the huge German trade show, ProWein. Such an initiative would have been unthinkable not that many years ago. It illustrates the length its wines have come from the early days when bored landowners and keen gardeners rolled up their sleeves and gave tending vines and making wine a ‘jolly good go’.

With ever-improving knowledge of viticulture and vinification techniques, swathes of southern England, the north and south downs, comprising all-important chalk and what appears to be a warming climate, England – and Wales – are set to become a significant wine-producing region bearing comparison with German regions, Burgundy and Champagne.

Ah! Champagne. The jewels in the crown of English wines are undoubtedly its sparkling wines, lead by the likes Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Chapel Down. The whites are also good and reds such as Pinot Noir and Dornfelder are coming along nicely. 

They are more expensive for the quality when compared to similar wines from Germany, Chile, Romania, Bulgaria etc. Nevertheless, as the vines mature and the winemakers become more experienced, they will get them right as well.

“English Wine is entering a new era,” says Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director of English Wine Producers, which is responsible for the generic marketing and promotion of English and Welsh wines. There are 22 producers in the EWP from 11 regions – from balmy Cornwall to northerly Leeds. The membership represents more than 80% of the total volume produced in the UK.

Sales of English sparkling wine are buoyant, with producers already reporting record sales for the first two months of 2013, traditionally the quietest in terms of sales. As consumers look for approachable, affordable alternatives to Champagne and drink sparkling wine on more occasions, English wine is becoming a serious player in the market.

Regarding ProWein, Trustram Eve says: “To have our own presence at such a well-established and respected international wine fair sends out a strong message to the international wine world.”

According to the EWP, acreage has nearly doubled in about eight years and most of this is plantings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for sparkling wine production. This is the major growth sector and currently sparkling wine has exceeded still in terms of production. There has been marginal growth in plantings of all three varieties in 2012 over 2011, showing that the trend continues. At the time of going to press, the latest figures had not been published.

Nyetimber, arguably England’s foremost sparkler, has just announced that, for its first export market, Japan, importer/distributor Enoteca will be its exclusive distributor from June.

Christian Holthausen, Nyetimber’s marketing & communications manager, said: “We’re delighted to be working with premium fine wine specialist Enoteca because it is the ideal partner to represent our wines. Japan is an extremely discerning wine market and we are looking forward to a very successful future.”