English Sparkling Wine (ESW) continues to shine and impress us with many great examples across the UK and I believe more and more awareness among consumers worldwide in that it is a viable option up against Champagne. I wanted to gather some thoughts within the industry towards ESW to include how the likes of Brexit may affect its market share and if we do indeed need a new name for it. Following an email out to a few English Sparkling Wine labels I was pleased to interview Peter Hall from Breaky Bottom, Dale Symons from Clayhill Vineyard, Donna Barbour from Woodchurch Wine Estate, Sibylla Tindale from High Clandon Estate Vineyard.

 

Do you think enough is being done to market English Sparkling Wines to UK consumers and those abroad also?

Yes, we are doing it – the sales figures are increasing and the quality of UK sparkling wine is high. The larger vineyards help to increase all sales – what I call the ‘plausibility’ of English sparkling is going up, the older generation’s “Champagne comes from France” can no longer hold. Medal tallies in the UK based wine competitions are impressive. The press/TV and radio are not being ignored. The excellence of our wine is the great marketing factor.Peter Hall, Breaky Bottom.

I think the industry through it’s larger producers and the now unified bodies of the industry (English Wine Producers & United Kingdom Vineyards Association) under the name Wine Producers Great Britain, current marketing good.Dale Symons, Clayhill Vineyard.

Individual producers are coming top in international competitions, are getting great press coverage and are increasingly exporting to other countries. As a collective, the UKVA and EWP (now WineGB) do a great job of promoting English wine in the news and at trade events. There is definitely scope for more promotional events, there’s a big untapped market abroad.” Donna Barbour, Woodchurch Wine Estate.

More is always better when it comes to publicity!  So I’m saying perhaps to showcase smaller estates, help consumers realise the richness that is available in English sparkling wines.  Further, what I would love to see, and this applies to all the smaller vineyards I would bet, is for journalists like yourselves, to visit us….to absorb the glorious terroir, to taste and then write-up/ comment on our delectable sparkling wines.  Some of us have made such effort to be English, to create lovely experiences to go with our super sparklers.” Sibylla Tindale, High Clandon Estate Vineyard.

Donna Barbour – Woodchurch Wine Estate

Will Brexit (if it ever happens) make or break English Sparkling Wines – Has / will it affect your winery directly?

I’m a small-commercial/grower-winemaker, 44 years since planting and my attention is fully focused on my work, 7 days a week. My honest answer is that I have not given the impending Brexit much thought – Reasons: 1. I cannot hope to influence the outcome and 2. I am therefore perfectly content to await the ‘result’ and see/learn how it will affect my business and adapt appropriately, especially to things like wine sales and export. The bigger vineyards are already exporting globally.” Peter Hall, Breaky Bottom.

If Brexit happens it can be good for home produced products, even more so if the EU body decides to not do a deal.  Our wine will become more competitive in our home market and our best markets for export will be to the fastest growing economies of China & India, through in the USA because they love anything English . . . can’t go wrong.” Dale Symons, Clayhill Vineyard.

Perhaps with the value of the pound dropping people may be more inclined to buy English if the price is closer to Prosecco/Cava. It may also affect our contractual labour for seasonal jobs such as harvesting, it’s a concern that these people won’t be available.” Donna Barbour, Woodchurch Wine Estate.

Brexit!  Such a divisive word.  Being free of Europe’s grasp, will help to differentiate our Englishness much more in the customer’s minds.  We will stand out more as being a unique region, not just part of Europe. So many of our bottle-fermented sparklers have such great quality and are getting super press, BUT and THUS we need a really distinctive name/ appellation for our ‘English quality sparkling wine’. This current ‘official’ mouthful of a descriptor does not do us justice. We need one word/short phrase that celebrates/wraps-up our English elegance, quality, style, distinctiveness, one that allows us to evoke that feeling of English style and luxury, one that connotes great quality and thus worth its cost.  Champagne does that job for the Champenoise; the Cape sparklers (secondary bottle fermented, classical style and quality) all carry the descriptor, Méthode Cap Classique or shorthand MCC – customers in South Africa and further afield know that this is the quality product and worth the extra. Cava is having a go at re-launching itself as a ‘good’ descriptor having been undermined by poor quality over the previous decades. We need one now for England!” Sibylla Tindale, High Clandon Estate Vineyard.

Clayhill Vineyard views – Photo credit Visit Maldon District

Is there a gap for English Sparkling Wines in the UK market? Prosecco has done incredibly well in recent years, Champagne is relying on its traditions and its established name, Cava is trying to shine, can English Sparkling Wine take a strong hold on UK fizz sales?

The traditional sparkling wines of the world have always been enjoyed in the UK and long may they remain. English Fizz is a new arrival and because of the outstanding quality that many achieve it has made a new market for itself… all-comers are welcome and I enjoy my glass of malt whisky in the evening and Burgundy, my French Grandfather’s favourite wine… ” Peter Hall, Breaky Bottom.

English is making its own market and the French are helping us . . . every time a well known Champagne House buys up land in England to make Sparkling Wine in England, it can only add higher credibility to our industry.  How can they belittle a product that they themselves are playing in that market?” Dale Symons, Clayhill Vineyard.

Absolutely, we’re just getting started. So many people haven’t tasted English Sparkling wine, when people try our wine they’re so impressed and become big advocates for our product. More and more people are serving English sparkling wine at dinner parties, weddings, business events.” Donna Barbour, Woodchurch Wine Estate.

The gap for English sparkling wines is there already, and there appears to be a huge appetite for local is better, to be more patriotic if one dares use the word and especially for important English occasions…whether this be a race meeting, a wedding toast, or a picnic in the garden*.  The cost of our sparkling wines relative to cheap Prosecco is a barrier, but then of course, the more publicity we have about our quality credentials, and our winning major awards, will help to underpin that cost and our fizz.  *I have so many compliments and requests for our High Clandon Cuvée precisely because it ticks all those boxes.  So I am certain this demand for English sparkling is repeated for many other English vineyards. In blind tastings, people have fun taking ours and doing a blind taste test with their chums at such events and thrillingly, ours always beats the French contenders!” Sibylla Tindale, High Clandon Estate Vineyard.

Views from Breaky Bottom vineyard

Is there room for more wineries across the UK or are we starting to become saturated somewhat with choice and volume produced?

There will be plenty more expansion of UK vineyards. At present it’s “Houston, we have lift-off” and this won’t stop over-night! History will reveal when this moment comes. When I started farming I kept a small pig herd. Talk was of a 7 year pig-cycle and when there were too many pigs the price fell away and farmers went out of pig keeping. After about 7 years the price would rise and folk went back into pigs – ad infinitum. English wines won’t suffer in this way; it takes 7 years to bring your first crop to market! The English Sparkling cycle? It would take a brave person to forecast when this might be – Don’t worry, just get on with it and make good wine!” Peter Hall, Breaky Bottom.

Yep, although I’m sure the larger producers will shout no!” Dale Symons, Clayhill Vineyard.

I personally don’t think there are too many wineries.” Donna Barbour, Woodchurch Wine Estate.

This is a difficult question… over 400 vineyards, so many very small ones, but yes, why not have room as there is clearly an appetite, especially among young professionals who seek lovely experiences not to be able to accommodate our burgeoning industry?  There does not appear to be saturation at this stage, as evidenced by the fact that all the medium vineyards I know of do sell all their stock. Though some of the big plantings still have to hit the market (Rathfinney/ extra plantings at Nyetimber), my sense is that there is a colossal appetite for English style abroad…China, Russia, Japan, Germany, USA. These are huge markets to which the larger vineyards will of course target their produce.” Sibylla Tindale, High Clandon Estate Vineyard.

Are you happy with the name English Sparkling Wine or would you like another name to work under – Maybe you have a suggestion?

Yes, I’m very happy with the name English Sparkling Wine. Some years ago I had a gentleman visit Breaky Bottom, no appointment, specially commissioned, clutching a clipboard and on a mission. He had been asked to research for a better name to replace ESW. The only way to end our interview, after time had passed and I wanted to watch ‘The Vicar of Dibley, was for me to be ridiculous (not difficult for me)……..So I suggested the name TRAFALGAR. Yes, he thought I was crazy, (and it was a ‘joke’!) but I said, just imagine, 30 years from now, two gentlemen in their club before supper, one with a bottle of excellent English Sparkling Wine, offering his friend “a spot more TRAFALGAR old boy, before we go in for grub”…

And if you are of a military mind, why not WATERLOO?… Yes, I’m joking!” Peter Hall, Breaky Bottom.

Yep, why throw away something that still today in countries all over the world is a sign of provenance and quality . . . ENGLISH.” Dale Symons, Clayhill Vineyard.

“I’m happy with the name English Sparkling Wine and variants like English Fizz and British Fizz. I think it’s clear and straightforward, there’s no mistaking what it is!” Donna Barbour, Woodchurch Wine Estate.

I am UNHAPPY with the current PDO name ‘English Quality Sparkling Wine’. As outlined in Pt 2 above, it is a mouthful, it is not distinctive, it is easy to confuse with non-bottle-fermented options like fizzed –up wine, with cheap prosecco-style wines,  but it does say what is on the tin  – English quality! So as said above, we need a distinctive new name , let’s run a competition, but ban unimaginative words – fizz, Brit fizz or any such underwhelming, even ugly names.

Let’s be creative about capturing the essence of Englishness, style, quality . How about Quintessence?

I have used Quintessence of England to describe ours…so having a glass of Quintessence! A lovely word as it connotes ‘distillation of something excellent, something unique’. The word even seems to have an onomatopoeic ‘bubbliness’ to it.” Sibylla Tindale, High Clandon Estate Vineyard.

 

A big thank you to Peter, Dale, Donna and Sibylla for taking the time to answer my questions!