WITH more than 70 vineyards currently producing across Sussex alone, the English – and Welsh – wine industry really is going from strength-to-strength.
Whilst the climate of the south of England, from Cornwall to Kent, is the most productive for commercial viticulture, growers are producing wines as far north as Derbyshire and Yorkshire, with experimental – if optimistic – planting even in Scotland.
Due to the terroir of the South Downs – a chalky, sheltered ridge within what is technically termed a ‘cool climate’ – England’s region is particularly good for growing the grape varieties of the Champagne region in France. This year’s warm summer days and cool summer nights, combined with a limestone soil, are promising a bumper harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes for 2018.
“Ridgeview were thrilled to receive a gold and two silver medals in the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships”, said Mardi Roberts of Ridgeview Wine Estate in Ditchling.
“This prestigious competition has one of the largest ranges of sparkling wine entries from around the world judged by some of the most respected global sparkling wine specialists”.
Wines submitted for the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championship are judged blind exclusively by three internationally renowned fizz experts, Tom Stevenson, Essi Avellan MW and Dr Tony Jordan and according to the judges 2018 has been the toughest judging yet with the quality and diversity of sparkling wine improving year on year.
“It was the first time we’ve entered with our newly released Vintage 2014 wines”, Mardi from Ridgeview added.
“So we were pleased to be awarded such great results. It is testament to the whole English sparkling wine industry that our wines have come of age globally and we were collectively awarded a total of nine gold medals. We have truly arrived internationally as a region of excellence in sparkling wine production.”
Just down the road from Ridgeview, Sussex’s Plumpton College’s wine department also received an accolade for their sparkling rosé.
Sarah Midgley, Plumpton’s winemaker aid: “We are over the moon to win a Gold for the fourth time with our sparkling Rosé. We work extremely hard every year to ensure quality and consistency are delivered in all our wines. However the key difference with our wines, is that the vine-growing and winemaking is carried out almost entirely by our undergraduate students. You can almost taste their enthusiasm for tending the vines, managing the fermentations and agreeing the blends. I am very proud of all our students”.
Alongside English sparkling wines, 18 other countries have been recognised at the Championships this year ranging from Argentina and Australia through South Africa and the US. Other emerging wine regions feature in the line-up including a Gold to the Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery in Ontario, Canada, and also the Moët spin-off Chandon in China.
Even in a changing global industry, France and Italy dominate the Championships.
Tom Stevenson, chairman of the Championship judges, said: “With the spread of technology and expertise world class sparkling can now be found in countries where the fizz was undrinkable or non-existent ten years ago. While France and Italy remain the two most important countries in terms of their number of entries, the increase in entries from the USA, UK, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Hungary and South Africa has averaged in excess of 75 per cent. In the USA we saw first time entries from Virginia and Illinois.”
Grand marque Champagne house Pommery scooped a Gold for their rare 2003 Clos Pompadour which is produced exclusively from a 25 hectare vineyard in Reims and aged exclusively in magnums for 10 years. Meanwhile over in Italy, premium Prosecco producers from the Veneto region were also recognised.
James Reina, who represents the Italian Villa Sandi winery in the UK market, said: “Villa Sandi are delighted to be awarded accolades for two of our iconic wines. Asolo Prosecco which is our pioneering biodiversity certified Prosecco, keeping in front of the ever changing demands of ecology in the vineyard. And also Opere Serenissima Trevigiana which showcases the superb ability of our winemakers to emulate the most special traditional method of sparkling wine production, and is a homage to our Venetian forefathers. It’s an iconic sparkling wine from an iconic producer”.
There’s no shock to Brighton vintner Henry Butler of Butler’s Wine Cellar in Queen’s Park Road and St George’s Road that the English wine industry has been recognised, although that comes with a commercial caveat.
“There has a been an increase in sparkling wine production in the UK, and I’m not surprised we have seen an increase in success for these wines in competitions, as the quality is at an all time high,”he said.
“However, if the price of English sparkling wine also carries on increasing, it will be interesting to see if the sales match the competition successes”.