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Even the royals are into English sparkling wine
Vineyard acreage on the island has doubled in the last eight years / from exotic to an export hit: Sparkling wines are very much in demand
Hand on heart: Who would think of vines - and not rain - when it comes to England? The island is the home of beer and cider, fish & chips, and all kinds of gastronomic specialities that you have to learn to love first... Yet just as the Brits have made up a lot of ground in terms of cooking & cuisine recently, they are now also preparing to compete with their French neighbours on the other side of the channel, above all with crisp sparkling wines. This is down to climate change: In the last eight years alone, the vineyard acreage in England and Wales has doubled to 1,450 hectares - that is more than, for example, Luxembourg can show, the small but much better known country for wine production.
"We are still exotics. But the wine world has discovered us, and is starting to speak positively about us", says Julia Trustram Eve, Head of Marketing of "English Wine Producers" (EWP), not without pride. At ProWein 2014, the stand, where six top products from the island were presented for the second time, was always well frequented. Many visitors seemed surprised by the high quality, especially of the sparkling wines which make up two thirds of the production. No wonder, because many vines of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grow in the South of England, in exactly the same chalk soil and a similar climate to the Champagne region.
Ambitious vineyards such as Ridgeview, Balfour, Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Bolney or Hattingley Valley are now not only gaining recognition at international competitions, where they scoop up the sparkling wine trophies with pleasing regularity, but also due to the acceptance of their bottles into the wine menus of star rated restaurants domestically and abroad. The international wine critics do not hold back on this matter and give high praise. "I am absolutely delighted with the quality of the English sparkling wines. The wines are generally very well made, with really fresh, vibrant fruit, exactly the right amount of bubbles, and certainly without the excessive sweetness that masks some sparkling wines", says Jancis Robinson MW about giving the best marks to the fizzing stars from Merry Old England.
Of course, these also have their price. The Balfour Brut Rosé 2010 costs around ₤40 trade price, the Hattingley Valley Kings Cuvee from the same vintage costs as much as ₤ 65.
Therefore, Simon Robinson, proprietor of the 24 hectare business in Hampshire, is not afraid to say where he sets the bar: "We have invested a great deal in modern technology since the start of 2008, maintain our vineyards perfectly, we develop some of the musts in oak barrels - and do not have to hide from Champagne." At ProWein at the end of March in Düsseldorf, Robinson and winemaker Emma Rice were, however, positively surprised by the "huge interest in English sparkling wines - we are on a very good path". Marketing professional Julia Trustram Eve, responsible for the EWP appearance in Düsseldorf, sees it the same way: "Our producers are now reaping the rewards of their hard work. ProWein, with its high quality of specialist trade visitors, is just the right platform to make our wines even better known internationally."