Over the past ten years English wine has progressed immensely in its production and successes, and sparkling wine has spearheaded the advance into international markets. According to the UK Vineyard Association (UKVA), the UK has more than 2,000 ha (5,000 acres) of vineyards, an area that has doubled over the past eight years and is expected to grow by 50 percent to 3,000 ha (7,500 acres) by 2020.
The English wine industry has grown exponentially and with it an increasing level of success, where many wines have been recognized both nationally and internationally with awards.
There are more than 700 vineyards and 130 wineries across the UK, many of which are carving a name for themselves. The UK is recognized for its cooler climate where the grapes ripen gradually over a long growing season, adding floral notes and fresh fragrances.
Denbies Wine Estate is one of the largest wine producers in the UK, and has claimed several international gold awards for sparkling wine, while Digby has further made a name for itself with a recent explosion of success in Japan in August 2016, and an ongoing partnership with Leander Rowing Club.
Ridgeview in Sussex, England’s southeast, had a change in pace in 2010 after winning “The World’s Best Sparkling Wine” in the Decanter World Wine Awards. Global inquiries increased tenfold and international export, which began around this time, received a boost. Starting at just five percent export, Ridgeview has gradually grown in production and percentage of export to reach 20 percent to 13 countries around the world, finding major trade with the USA, Scandinavia, and Asia. The same time that Ridgeview was developing its global reach, Hattingley Valley was building its winery ready for the first cuvée release in 2013. The vineyard has since moved quickly, with a focus on export since its inception – today some 30 percent to 15 global markets and increasing, year on year.
Hattingley Valley has been expanding into the US market with an “extremely positive” reaction, says sales and export manager Gareth Maxwell, following a national deal at the end of 2016. After the first stock arrived in January 2017 a second order was required shortly afterwards.
Prowein is considered a quality international wine show to open up global marketing opportunities for wineries such as Ridgeview and Hattingley Valley. Ensuring a presence at these wine shows is key to both companies, and CEO Tamara Roberts said it will continue to be “proactively exploring other markets, watching trends and attending international wine shows such as Prowein, as we do now.”
Maxwell commented, “Hattingley is one of the leading exporters of English sparkling wine. We exhibit at Prowein every year as part of the English Wine Producers which is essential in our view to getting us into the world market.”
Spending time in the potential market is equally important, agree both Ridgeview and Hattingley Valley. “There is nothing better than spending time in an export market with your distributor to enhance sales and learn about the unique customs, opportunities, and market conditions for the specific countries,” said Roberts.
Ridgeview works with Castle Brook winery, which is able to create some really exciting blends with 21 different clones of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay on three different rootstocks. The winery first planted vines in 2004 and received a trio of medals shortly after the release of its first vintage in 2006; more recently it claimed the top gold medal of the Sparkling White class at the 2016 South West Vineyards Association Annual Competition as well as the SWVA Wine of the Year trophy for its 2010 Classic Cuvée.
WFW recently held an English sparkling wine tasting of 100 wines with Champagne and sparkling wine experts Tom Stevenson, Essi Avellan MW, and Anthony Rose. The full results will be published in issue 57 in September this year. But one of the main conclusions is that English sparkling wine NV blends are showing increasingly well, as producers have had the opportunity over a number of harvests now to develop and build the reserves that reinforce house styles. Roberts commented on Ridgeview NV wines: “Next and future releases of Ridgeview’s Signature wines will be Non-Vintage, which will enable us to further improve quality and consistency with the inclusion of older vintages. It will also allow smoother transition between releases, while maintaining the pure and exciting style of the Signature range.” The winery’s “Limited Release” wines (Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé de Noirs) will remain as single vintage expressions, while the firm continues to build up its reserve wine stocks. “As the company evolves and comes of age, we want to become known for our house style. We want to be seen as a leading English sparkling wine brand and a brand that people can trust in terms of consistency of style,” said Tamara.
Essi Avellan MW revealed her conclusions from the tasting: “Our tasting showcased the wide spectrum of styles and qualities of English sparkling wine.
“Both, the obvious world-class quality of the finest and the very good average level further boosted my belief in English sparkling's great future potential. As usual, for me, it was the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé that stood out as the best categories.”
Tom Stevenson also shared his thoughts: “The best wines in this tasting demonstrate the wonderfully exciting potential of English sparkling wine because if they are this good now, when the vines are so young and there is virtually no stock of mature reserve wines, imagine what they will be like when the vineyards are well established and there are mature reserve wines?”
English sparkling wine will continue its steep climb over the next few years, predicts Roberts: “It is very important that other quality producers also seek international markets to keep sales growth and prices at sustainable levels within the UK,” she said.
Image courtesy of Denbies Wine Estate