Champagne: Pick of the sparklers

For now, though, champagne needs not worry too much about losing market share to its qualitative peers, simply because of scale. The figures for champagne shipments in 2017 show that total sales were 307.3m bottles, up by 0.4% compared with 2016. This is split almost exactly between the French market (down by 2.5% at 153.7m bottles) and exports (up by 3.5% at 153.6m bottles). For exports, European Union (down 1.3% at 76.6m bottles) has been taken by non-EU markets (up 9% to 77m bottles). The region achieved a record turnover of €4.9bn.

Stevenson recognises this. “The caveat is, of course, is that none of these top-level competitors represents a real commercial threat because the production levels are relatively insignificant,” he says. “However, with a trend to establish sparkling wine-specific vineyards, the introduction of technology such as jetting and Mytik, and the ability of emerging industries to avoid clear-glass bottles, high-quality sparkling can and is being produced in some of the least likely locations around the world at the very time that the avoidance of sulphur is killing off the quality and longevity of an increasing number of backward-looking champagne producers, both among the houses and the growers.”

Jetting is a technique used at bottling to reduce oxygen pick-up. A small dose of liquid is ‘jetted’ into the mouth of the bottle just before the cork is applied, and this fills the headspace with carbon dioxide that bubbles up from the wine, clearing out any oxygen present.

Mytik is the taint-free micro-agglomerate sparkling wine cork produced by DIAM. And Stevenson thinks that clear glass is very risky, even though it can be attractive packaging, because of light strike, which is unfortunately common in sparkling wines bottled in clear glass.


With a current production level of 4m bottles, projected to grow to 27m by 2040 (40m bottles of wine, 68% sparkling if the current ratio holds), English sparkling wine is not currently a major threat to champagne.

Technically, this should be British sparkling wine because there are some producers in Wales, but the term ‘British wine’ has been tainted by cheap wines made from concentrate in the UK. But it is attracting quite a bit of attention, and achieves prices similar to champagne.

If buyers can be found for the wines that will emerge from the new vineyards coming into production, and this current rate of growth is maintained, then Brit fizz could take a good slice of the 33m bottles of champagne sold in the UK each year, and continue to carve out a niche in export markets.

The charge for champagne’s export success has been led by the marketing savvy and spend of the large champagne houses, plus their buying of house pours in restaurants. Do the English producers have the same dedication to marketing? The likes of Nyetimber, Chapel Down, Gusbourne, Hambledon, Coates & Seely, Ridgeview, Rathfinney, Hattingley Valley and Camel Valley seem to get it, but they are a long way from being competitors to the Grand Marque champagne houses, because of scale.

However, Nyetimber has been growing, adding vineyards in Hampshire and Kent to those of its Sussex base, and engaging in the sort of marketing befitting of a top champagne house – powerful branding, sponsorship of events, and a luxury brand bus. For English sparkling wine it’s becoming clear that wine quality is not the issue and, as a collective brand, there’s a reassuring consistency to quality that must be maintained for its long-term health.