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English wine enjoys on-going recognition

England’s leading producers and regional vineyards are attracting attention from major trade buyers as interest grows in the country’s award-winning still and sparkling wines. It is an industry that has seen sales growth despite the economic climate and is continuing to expand. 

The last few years have presented some interesting challenges to The UK wine industry.  “It’s been a case of demand challenging - if not exceeding - supply,” comments Julia Trustram Eve of English Wine Producers.

Wine production figures (released week commencing April 19) by the Wine Standards Branch of the Food Standards Agency, confirm predicitons that 2009 production was over 3 million bottles. The hectarage in production is showing a 20% increase on the previous year alone whilst there is a further 25% planted but still to come on stream. New plantings continue with more anticipated this year.

Much of the recent plantings and a growing percentage of production refect the growing trend for sparkling wines, the quality of which can compete with the very best internationally.

One key factor in the rise in consumer and trade interest are the regular competition wins for English wines both here and abroad, and the resulting publicity.  Trophy wins in last year’s International Wine Challenge (Camel Valley Bacchus 2008), Decanter World Wine Awards (Hush Heath Balfour Brut 2005) and notable achievements in overseas competitions have also created significant positive media interest.  

Happily, 2009 has produced what is likely to be one of the largest vintages on record, due in part to the number of the more recently planted vineyards coming in to full production.  As many of these new vineyards will be releasing sparkling wines it will be a while yet before the first wines are on the market. 

There were some new faces and wines at the London trade tasting on April 23 (St Georges Day), which was the launch of English Wine Week, a celebration of English wines which takes place this year May 26 –June 6.  English Wine Week provides the trade with a great opportunity to fly the flag for English wines and to collaborate with vineyards to highlight these wines to customers.  In turn it encourages vineyards to work more closely with the on and off trade, from locally to nationally.  English Wine Week falls at an ideal time for English wines – it is the beginning of the summer, which is seasonally appealing and carries all the anticipation of the summer months ahead.

Below are some snippets of news from some of the producers:

Gusbourne Estate
New to the market is sparkling wine estate Gusbourne.  Just outside Appledore in Kent, Gusbourne Estate currently only grows the classic Champagne varieties on Weald Clay, Tunbridge Wells sand and a very light sandy loam on a south-facing ancient coastal escarpment.  The estate is owned by Andrew Weeber, whose passion for wine extends back to his South African (Stellenbosch University) roots, Gusbourne is run on a day-to-day basis by manager Jon Pollard.
The first vintage releases, presented at the EWP Trade Tasting, are from 2006 and in two styles - Brut (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay) and Blanc (100% Chardonnay).  Production has increased for subsequent vintages, and a groundbreaking new winery is planned for the near future.
The Ridgeview has a range of 5 sparkling wines styles and blends and has just released its 2007 vintages.  Ridgeview's Blanc de Blanc Grosvenor 2006 was recently awarded Silver in Chardonnay du Monde 2010, a French-based competition which honours the best chardonnays of the world, selected from 880 wines entered from 37 countries.  Additionally the current Wine of the Year in the UK’s own English & Welsh Wine of the Year Competition is Ridgeview’s Blanc de Noirs Knightsbridge 2006.  In the same competition, winemaker Mike Roberts was awarded Winemaker of the Year.

The Nyetimber team has just released its 2005 vintage Classic Cuvée.
This signature style from Nyetimber succeeds the multi award-winning 2003, which was crowned Champion of Worldwide Sparking Wines in the Italian Bollicine Del Mondo competition in Italy at the end of last year.
The new Classic Cuvée is a blend of 62% Chardonnay, 19% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier, with an alcohol level of 12.3% and residual sugar of 14.0. 
“2005 – the summer we won The Ashes – had favourable conditions at all the right moments,” says Nyetimber’s head winemaker Cherie Spriggs.

Hush Heath
The third vintage for Hush Heath’s rosé sparkling Balfour Brut has just been launched.  The 2006 vintage follows a prestigious run of award-winners, with the 2004 scooping a Gold medal in the International Wine Challenge in 2008 and the 2005 vintage winning last year’s Decanter English Wine Trophy.  Plans at Hush Heath continue to develop, with a winery being built on site, and the introduction of a limited edition still wine.

Stanlake Park
Stanlake Park Wine Estate, based just outside Twyford, Reading, is no stranger to EWP nor to the tasting.  This year however they will have their own stand at the tasting, showing their range of sparkling and still wines, and launching their new sparkling wine branding.  Winemaker Vince Gower will be on hand to take you through the range.  Stanlake has become a popular tourist destination within the Thames Valley, having opened a wine showroom and shop, selling their full range of some 14 different wines plus liqueurs from fruit grown on the estate and other world wines to complement the selection.   Owner Peter Dart will be on the Stanlake stand, along with Winemaker Vince Gower.

Chapel Down
Chapel Down Wines has a new addition to its extensive and award-winning range of sparkling wines – a Pinot Noir-Chardonnay blend from the high quality 2006 vintage.  The 2009 vintages include a signature Bacchus still wine , an English Rose still rosé and a Chablis style Chardonnay which is due to be released in May. 

Three Choirs
One of the UK’s longest standing producers, Three Choirs continues to offer a range of still and sparkling wines, including dry and medium dry white wines produced exclusively for the on trade – under the ‘English House’ label.  Winemaker Martin Fowke says there was a sense of national pride recently when a Three Choirs off dry white wine (a wine it produced for The Wine Society) was voted top wine in a blind tasting of 10 wines in France.  The tasting was organised by a new restaurant - "La Part des Anges"  - soon to be opened in the centre of Arras for local imbibers.  Of the 10 still white wines, 5 were French, 1 from England the remaining 4 from other countries.   

To celebrate the World Cup in June, Wetherspoons have teamed up with Denbies Wine Estate to create a still white wine that embodies the unique characteristics of English wine.  The wine is to be included in Wetherspoons ‘World Cup Wine Festival’.
Denbies wine maker, Marcus Sharp has crafted an aromatic off dry wine with crisp clean flavours -  really focusing on the all round appeal of English wine.  The wine will be available for the duration of the festival at all participating Wetherspoons pubs across the UK. 
As part of the ongoing vineyard development at the estate, three hectares of Sauvignon Blanc have been planted.  The Sauvignon Blanc planting is part of Denbies strategy to move to more premium dry white wine styles. 

Bookers becomes Bolney
Bookers Vineyard in Sussex has been renamed The Bolney Wine Estate.  “We have won several national and international awards for our wines and it made sense to add ‘Estate’ to our name to better reflect our newly expanded acreage and the premium wines we’re producing.” says Samantha Linter, director and chief winemaker.  “There is never a good time to change your company and brand name but we’ve been thinking about it for some time.  So with our growth plans well under way and the multiple retailers getting more and more interested in us as a business we took the plunge.  We’re now the Bolney Wine Estate and very proud of our new name.”


1 April 2010 - Felicity Murray