Move over Mumm. Adieu Château de Boursault. England’s sparkling wine industry is booming. With the burgeoning demand for British bubbly there’s also been a significant increase in vineyard hectares planted throughout England’s southern counties.
It’s a well-known fact that the British wartime prime minister, Winston Churchill, loved French bubbly. While he drank several brands of Champagne, including Giesler, Moët et Chandon and Pommery, Pol Roger was his clear favourite. To celebrate his marriage to Clementine Ogilvy Hozier in 1908 he ordered no less than nine dozen bottles and seven dozen half-bottles Pol Roger 1895 plus four dozen half-bottles Pol Roger 1900. Experts estimate Churchill’s debt with his long-standing wine merchant, Randolph Payne & Sons, once stood at the current equivalent of R1.3 million.
Some even argue it’s the English who invented sparkling wine. In 1662, Christopher Merret presented a paper on “gay, brisk and sparkling wine” to the Royal Society, 33 years before Dom Pérignon pioneered sparkling wine in 1693. But that’s another story . . .
Like Churchill, modern-day British wine consumers have developed a passion for sparkling wine, buying 164 million bottles of bubbly last year and drinking more of it than any nation on earth except the French.
An ideal climate
Vineyards are sprouting all over the English countryside as climate change makes the southern counties increasingly suitable for producing sparkling wines to rival those of France’s Champagne region. In 2018 the combination of a warm spring followed by an exceptionally dry, sunny summer and balmy weather that lingered well into autumn resulted in what’s been described by Wines of Great Britain as the “harvest of the century”.
“We have free-draining, well-positioned sites and slopes,” Wines of Great Britain marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve says. “Our southern counties have proven to provide excellent soils and subsoils.” From the South Downs, which extend from the White Cliffs of Dover in the southeast, to the west towards Winchester in Hampshire, the conditions are very similar to areas in the Champagne region of France.
“In Kent the North Downs soils have similar chalk and limestone content, and have proved to be excellent sites,” Julia says. The south of England also ….