From Winespeed: Over the last several years, both iconic Champagne producers have invested in southern England’s uncanny combination of chalky soils, climate, and topography—so similar to Champagne’s own terroir.
In 2017, Taittinger planted 50 acres (20 hectares) of traditional Champagne grape varieties near Kent in southeastern England. It was the first time a top Champagne house had planted a vineyard in the U.K. This summer, plans to build a 33K+ case winery adjacent to the venture’s current 550-acre vineyard were approved. The English sparkling wine will be called Domaine Evremond, named after Charles de Saint-Évremond, the French writer credited with introducing 17th-century London society to Champagne. The first vintage is expected in 2024.
Not long after Taittinger’s investment, Pommery purchased and planted 100 acres (40 hectares) of vineyard near Southampton, west of Kent along the southern coast. The following year, Pommery became the first Champagne house to launch an English sparkling wine with the 2018 release of its Louis Pommery England Brut, with grapes purchased from vineyards in Hampshire, Essex, and Sussex. The wine is named for Pommery’s founder.I have heard many good things about the sparkling wines from England. It turns out the English have been some of the great drinkers of wine. To the point, think of Willie’s Falstaff (above), and Dickens who liked Sauternes and Chablis. This is topped only by Winston Churchill (also above), who claimed the four essentials of life were a hot bath, cold champagne, new pears, and old brandy.
According to Punch:
To anyone who’s been keeping track, the sudden rise of England as a top producer of terroir-driven sparkling wines represents one of the most dramatic wine-industry success stories of recent memory. In the words of English writer Andrew Jefford, “What had once been regarded as a harmless eccentricity has become, over the last decade, one of the wine world’s most promising developments.”
The proof is in the numbers. According to the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA), 2017 saw a record-breaking amount of English wine released onto the market. The WSTA also projects that English Sparkling Wine production will double by the year 2022 to approximately 10 million bottles annually (with plans to export at least a quarter of that figure to the United States). This is why the U.K. government’s Food is GREAT campaign teamed up with industry this past October to launch its first British Spirits and Sparkling Wine week in New York City.
Even just a few decades ago, to speak of an “English wine industry” would have smacked of hyperbole. As Gareth Maxwell of Hattingley Valley Wines explains, “In the 1970s, we actually used to grow a lot of German varieties and odd hybrids, but back then it was mostly a cottage industry and the quality wasn’t all that great because the grapes didn’t fully ripen.”
The essential hallmark of the “English style,” is freshness. But not the usual run-of-the-mill, cool-climate freshness, which we associate with any number of places. Imagine extreme freshness—an almost electric jolt of acidity, infused with bracing minerality and orchard fruit. Although individual wineries tend to interpret this profile through their own stylistic lens, it signals the emergence of a singular regional expression that stands apart from the other sparkling wines of the world.
“We’re after a much fresher, cleaner style than Champagne,” Maxwell explains. “We’re not looking for a rich, yeasty style. We want to highlight the quality of our fruit, which is exceptionally high, thanks to our long, cool growing season. That’s what we have in mind when we say we make a uniquely English style of wine.” I think I would like this style!
I have not seen any in our wine stores here in the US, yet! But I will try it soon, either in Jolly Olde, on a plane, or a duty-free shop somewhere in Europe. Or perhaps, Brexit might alter the marketplace for these interesting products?