We’ve all had one of those long days at work when there’s nothing you need more than a drink (or two). For those of us whose poison of choice is wine, we might have recently found ourselves going for the bottle of English bubbly instead of the traditional champagne.
Is champagne’s reign as the sparkling drink of choice for the UK coming to an end?
In recent years, there has been a considerable rise in sales of domestically grown wine. When it comes to fizz, this year alone, sales in the UK are already more than enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Still, French and Italian bubbles are ahead, but wine producers are planting a million new vines in our nation this year. In approximate figures: English sparkling wine production is set to double to 10 million bottles per year by 2020.
“How do you make a small fortune? Start with a large fortune and then open a vineyard.”
This old English joke depicts the reality that Great Britain is not historically known for its viticulture.
Traditionally, the English wine industry has struggled with an inconsistent climate and cooling northern winds. This, among other reasons, has made it impossible to compete against the leading wine regions in the world… until now.
Climate experts proclaim: “British viticulture could change beyond recognition in the coming years.”
Global warming has given English wine a crucial push towards international recognition. Indeed, when it comes to sparkling wine, we now have the right climate, and tools, to ripen grapes to an ideal acidity. Proof of this is that, in the last year, Waitrose sold 50% more homegrown sparkling wine.
Supermarket sales hold yet another truth: we do not have the climate to ripen red grapes – as can be seen from the lack of English reds in Tesco or Sainsbury’s.
Without sunshine, the essential fruit flavours elude red wine, limiting the amount produced to relatively insignificant volumes. Fortunately, the shift in climate could even allow the production of unprecedented grapes in the UK, such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Even though the possibility of having exquisite British reds is quite distant, the immediate reality is a vineyard the size of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The prospect of this can have a significant effect on the wine industry, not only in the UK but also on an international level.
Currently, at our Chief Wine Officer events we offer a wide range of wines from all over the world, including some beautiful homegrown ones. The multi-award winning sparkling wine Balfour Brut Rosé from Hush Heath Estate or the unique Hattingley Valley Blanc de Blancs are excellent examples of this and the potential of local fizz.
There is yet another uncertainty that could be the make-or-break of English viticulture: Brexit. The future of imported prosecco and champagne remains quite hazy and up for debate. Many analysts predict an increase in foreign wine prices. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association has revealed that a bottle from within the EU is already 29p higher than before the vote, and the actual figure post-Brexit is unforeseeable.
To end on a good note though, the outlook of English wine appears to be a promising (or at least cheaper) alternative for the not-so-distant future.