Pride of England

If you take a leisurely drive through the English countryside – imagine, perhaps, a journey through some of the sleepy villages of Kent or Sussex – you would be hard pushed not to spot some vines growing somewhere in the distance.

The record numbers of vines being planted in the UK is not “new” news, neither is the success of England’s sparkling wines with award- winning vineyards in a number of counties.

But looking ahead it seems the category could be on the verge of stepping up a gear, with producers making a big effort to add new creations to their sparkling wine portfolios.

So, what might we see in the coming years?

The desire to innovate is clear from NPD in the past year alone, with the most recent launches including an English orange wine and English sparkling wine in cans.

Albourne Estate in Sussex recently added a 12.5% abv Bacchus Frizzante, made using the Charmat/tank fermentation method.

And Guy Smith, owner of Smith & Evans, in Somerset, points to the producer’s recent launch of Wessex Hills, which he describes as “probably England’s first merchant brand”.

He says: “We buy wine in bulk from a number of producers and blend it like a French negotiant to provide quality and consistency.”

The producer has also recently launched a Wild Ferment White from the 2018 harvest.

Smith says: “It has great complexity. We are also launching Trilogy One – a blend of our first three vintages, 2010, 2011 and 2012. It has zero dosage and no added sulphur.

“I think the next thing will be more tank- method wines that hit a lower price point and give more immediate pleasure to the consumer.”

He notes, however, that this will have to be carefully marketed “to differentiate from the bottle-fermented wines”.

Rebecca Fisher, marketing & events manager at Hattingley Valley in Hampshire, stresses that – like many producers – the company will continue to specialise in sparkling wines, but says a 2018 vintage of its still dessert wine Entice – made in an ice-wine style from Bacchus – is being released shortly.

She adds: “It is ever so popular and will fly off the shelves as only 3,000 half bottles have been produced. Innovation is widely encouraged at Hattingley so the winery is constantly experimenting with new ideas. Entice was one of them and last summer the sparkling red Pinot sold out due to it being the perfect barbecue drink over the glorious summer.”

STILL WINES ON THE MOVE

One thing we are likely to see more of is still wine and many producers are reporting that this is an area they are currently focusing on.

Bolney Wine Estate in Sussex is one of many producers gearing up to launch its 2018 still vintages and managing director Sam Linter says: “In the mix is our new wine: Lychgate Bacchus.

“Our Rosso Vermouth was launched last May and later this year we are launching another non-traditional product.

“Most producers are still focusing on quality sparkling but, alongside a couple of others, Bolney will keep championing and growing both our still and sparkling ranges of wines, as we are experts in the creation of both. Varieties such as Bacchus, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are growing in popularity and there is less of a trend for experimental blends at the moment. However, we have always enjoyed a challenge and our pioneering spirit is what launched us into creating a still red from Pinot Noir back in the 1990s and being the first to plant Pinot Gris.”

Surrey’s Greyfriars Vineyard is also experimenting with different grapes and says it is one of the very few that grows Sauvignon Blanc in the UK. It is also trialling plantings of Pinot Blanc this year.

Owner & winemaker Mike Wagstaff says: “We hope that the English wine industry will continue to experiment and try new varieties and blends because we are still in the early days.” He adds that the company is “very excited” about the 2018 vintage still wines which it will be launching for English Wine Week at the end of May.

“We produce a relatively small amounts of still wine in addition to the mass bulk of our production, which is sparkling,” he says. “There is increasing interest in still wines and it is becoming increasingly important commercially for us.”

Mark Harvey, managing director of Kent’s Chapel Down, says the company’s still wine plans this year are exciting given the scale and quality of last year’s harvest.

He says: “We have lots of activity in place over the summer months, particularly with Bacchus, English Rose and Flint Dry. The 2018 wines are tasting spectacular and we are excited to see people’s reactions as we have been putting these out on release. Our single estate still wines, Kit’s Coty Chardonnay and Kit’s Coty Bacchus, continue to receive rave reviews. Managing demand is the tricky part. And we have an exciting new wine, which will be revealed in the coming weeks.”

Still reds are also emerging from England, and Albourne Estate is one that plans to launch its first one later this year.

Alison Nightingale, winemaker and owner, says: “We will see more people launching English still wines and hopefully quality in this area will improve as I think there are still some pretty poor examples of English still wine out there. We will continue to see experiments with wine styles and blends as we have no defined ‘right way’ of producing good wines in England and we are all striving to improve. It is a very young industry.”

Jacob Leadley, winemaker and co-founder of Hampshire-based Black Chalk, says: “We are already seeing a wave of innovation with wine in cans, Charmat method sparkling and some great still wines.” He believes that in the future there will be a renewed focus on traditional method sparkling production, but he adds: “I expect and hope the innovation continues and still wine production is going to be very interesting over the next 10 years.”

Gusbourne Estate in Kent has produced a 100% still Pinot Noir and a 100% still Chardonnay for many years, which it will continue when vintage conditions allow. Head of marketing Jonathan White says: “In the wider industry, innovation certainly seems to be in full swing and my personal view is that we will see many more still wines from the 2018 vintage on sale later this year and into 2020.”

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