England finds its Sparkle

“It takes about 10 years from planting a vineyard, so we are talking about a timescale of 20 to 50 years,” says Kellett.

Hambledon will comprise two brands: Mill Down, a vintage, and Hambledon, which will be a multi-year blend.

The current total area under vine is 60 acres and further expansion is planned. Kellett says the vineyard will produce about 200,000 bottles of wine but the production facilities will gear up to be able to produce approximately 750,000 bottles.

Kellett trained as a chemist and has done an oenology course at the respected Plumpton College in Sussex. He is totally focused on sparkling and export. Asked where he intends to export his wines to, he replies: “China and India but they will not necessarily be the first. But long-term about half the volume. I foresee about 10 markets that are as much cities as nations, such as New York and Paris.”

Kellett has one other string to his bow. Hambledon is known as the cradle of cricket. The Hambledon Cricket club was founded about 1750 and was said to have “raised cricket from a sport to an art”.

The earliest surviving record of cricket at Hambledon dates from 1756, coming from a passage in The Oxford Gazette & Reading Mercury newspaper which advertised the loss of a dog at a cricket match on Broad-Halfpenny Down.

John Nyren, son of legendary Richard, successively landlords of The Bat & Ball and The George Inn, in his ‘The Cricketers of My Time’ (1833) wrote: “No 11 in England could compare with the Hambledon, which met on the first Tuesday in May on Broad-Halfpenny. So renowned a set were the Men of Hambledon, that the whole country round would flock to see on their trial matches.”

Not a bad thing to have when you are selling something to cricket-mad nations such as India, Australia, New Zealand and possibly Pakistan.

“My mission is to make the single best sparkling wine in the UK,” says Kellett. Believe him.

To get another point of view, Drinks International went to Emma Roberts, Laithwaites’ fine wine director. Laithwaites is part of Direct Wines, which has  annual sales in excess of £360 million and has operations in Europe, the US, Hong Kong, Australia, and India, selling wine directly to consumers.

She says: “Sales of English sparkling wine continue to rise in the UK and internationally and Laithwaites wine is going from strength to strength in this category. Laithwaites has seen an uplift of 89% on UK English sparkling wine sales in 2012 from the previous year. The rise is attributed to the excellent quality and growing reputation of English sparkling wine, as well as patriotic events such as the Jubilee and Olympics.

“English sparkling wines are being championed by Laithwaites UK and they represent 3% of the sparkling mix of wines sold at Laithwaites, this up 1% on the previous year, showing steady growth,” says Roberts.

Laithwaites picked up first and second place at a recent blind tasting, amusingly called the Judgement of Parsons Green after the famous Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 when a Californian wine trounced some of Bordeaux’s finest. 

Wyfold Vineyard Sparkling Wine 2009 was the most highly ranked bottle with Berkshire-grown Laithwaites Theale Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 taking second place. Wyfold happens to be made by Laithwaites co-founder, Barbara Laithwaite. She farms a tiny 1ha in south Oxfordshire with 4,000 vines, along with a friend. It’s a bit like the old days.

So, English wines are no longer a joke. They are serious wines made by serious people who know what they are doing and where they are heading. If you haven’t already, it is time to take stock and try some then list some.