Well, gosh hasn’t there been a lot in the press about English wine lately? Seems everyone has heard of Taittinger’s acquisition of land in Kent and, as Richard Goring of Wiston Estate said to me the day after the news came out, it’s going to make a lot of people who hadn’t previously taken English fizz seriously suddenly sit up and take notice. It also seemed like every national newspaper wanted to write about English wine, too, including the Financial Times, who were kind enough to call and ask me for a quote and a bit of help with research. See the article here.
So, how will all of this new interest affect the landscape, or indeed will it? Here are a few of my thoughts on what we can expect to see in the coming year and beyond.
More Wine Experiences
As the nascent industry gets more professional and as English wine becomes increasingly ubiquitous, I think more producers will seek to directly engage with their customers – neither the fact that the story behind any carefully-crafted product helps to sell it nor the fact that the margin is higher when selling directly to consumers is a great business secret.
The smallest scale, yet perhaps most intimate level of visits comes from members clubs at producers like Albury Organic in Surrey and Herbert Hall in Kent. Then there are more regular yet still personalised tours from the owners at places like Tinwood Estate in Sussex or Oatley Vineyard in Somerset. All of those require quite an interest in wine to become engaged, although wine tour vouchers as gifts are becoming increasingly common.
More and more vineyards are realising that their land and buildings offer lots of opportunities. Just a few of those I’ve enjoyed in the last year are the Sculpture at Bothy Vineyard in Oxfordshire (now part of their annual calendar), the shows by Pop Up Opera (whose list of productions includes several vineyards) and Castlewood Festival in Devon.
There are too many great examples to mention, but I think that vineyards that welcome children and vineyards with accommodation both have huge opportunities for growth.
More Varied Styles of Wine
In the same way that a very skilled artist could present an image in a way that is photographically perfect, English wine producers have proven that they can make wine which is similar to, and as good as, champagne. Having proven that, several, perhaps many, are now interested in expressing their own skills and tastes, their own version of what English terroir can deliver.
I think we will see more of these different styles including lighter sparkling wines such as Lyme Bay’s Brut Reserve and Davenport’s 100% Auxerrois fizz (ready summer ’16). I’ve also commented several times on the growth of oaked whites – producers to look out for include Gusbourne and Litmus Wines – my tip is to hunt down their contract wine-making as well as wines under the Litmus label itself. Red wines are also coming on apace – Pinot Noir from Davenport and Bolney Estate have both been receiving rave reviews and I’d recommend trying Polgoon’s Rondo Pinot Noir, too, for a heavier style with a hint of oak, yet still smooth.
More Wines by the Glass
Price is a heated topic in the UK wine industry – at both ends of the spectrum. The planned listing of wine from Denbies at Lidl has been welcomed by some and derided by others. A lot of talk at trade events focusses on maintaining a premium price for quality sparkling wines.
My view, as an interested consumer, is at both ends of the market. To take up the art analogy again, does buying prints in ones teens and twenties encourage one to buy “real art” later or once a print buyer always a print buyer? I’d say that both are possible and it is budget, opportunity and exposure that determine the road taken.
I believe it is important for English & Welsh wines to be available at an entry level, and that doesn’t mean a lack of quality. Chapel Down’s Flint Dry at around the £10 mark (although often on offer) is available in many places and absolutely delicious. We also need to think about what we’re comparing with – the Carnival white and rosé wines from Titchfield Vineyard in Hampshire are even cheaper, but would beat many a wine served in your local pub.
At the top end, I’m spotting more and more top quality English wines in bars and restaurants. We were delighted to find and enjoy a bottle of Henners Brut with fabulous burgers while on holiday at Maritimo Lounge at Ocean Village near Southampton and a bottle of Herbert Hall with smoked salmon at The Ivy was delightful end to a day of celebrating a successful business deal.
Budgets, travel plans and even the occasion don’t always call for a whole bottle, though. For that reason I think the increasing availability of wine by the glass is an important trend, which I hope will encompass more English & Welsh wines. It’s a great way for people to try a top quality wines at a more modest price while providing sellers with a good margin. I was thrilled to find a glass of Hambledon as an apéritif at Scott’s of Mount Street and enjoyed a lunchtime glass of Greyfriars at Hampton’s Cheese and Wine Company. I think these venues deserve a shout-out, so I’m announcing the launch of 2 new hashtags – #englishwinebtg and #welshwinebtg. If you use Twitter and spot a suitable wine by the glass, why not join in and share it? If you can include a picture of the wine list showing the relevant wine, so much the better.
Whatever happens, there will certainly be more English & Welsh wine around to enjoy in 2016 – Ian & I will be visiting as many as possible in order to keep our website www.WineCellarDoor.co.uk up to date and we hope you will enjoy some superb new wines and a few vineyard visits yourself, too. Please sign up to our Newsletter (at the top right of this page) or follow us on Facebook or Twitter for more frequent updates of what’s going on in the world of local wines.