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What’s in a name…?

Jul. 29th 2011

Amidst the storm of finding the right name for English sparkling wine, that has been blowing around for the past few months, following Coates & Seely’s launch of their eponymous wine brand, HRH Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, has taken the seat to preside over the UK Vineyard Association.

 

HRH Camilla’s passion for wine, and particularly English fizz, following her comments that it’s as good as Champagne, and should be called such, provides the UKVA with the best figurehead to take on the mantle following Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s retirement from the post of President of the UKVA.

 

The launch of Coates & Seely’s labelling decision to name their English sparkling wines ‘Britagne’, has caused a raft of articles and comment amongst the industry and press alike. With RidgeView‘s ‘Merret’ brand offering a similar overarching name to encapsulate sparkling wine – much like ‘Cava’ does in Spain, ‘Prosecco’ in Italy, ‘Sekt’ in Germany – people are trying to find a solution to what could be a never-ending debate. The term English sparkling wine is one that is descriptive and true to the product, even if it is a bit of a mouthful…

 

The new PDO (protected designation of origin) rules which will classify some of the wines in questions as ‘Traditional Quality Sparkling Wine’, permit only wines made in the traditional method in England or Wales from grapes grown in that locality from the following varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot noir précoce, Pinot meunier, Pinot blanc, and Pinot gris. Some of our best fizzes are made from other varieties, including Seyval blanc (notably Breaky Bottom), which will not fall under the PDO classification. This is not something that will stop producers of these wines from being successful – as we have seen in Italy, where the Super-Tuscans, and Garagistes of France, produce the best and most expensive wines outside of the controlled appellation in which they are based – but it could, however, limit their marketability on a national and international stage, for a country still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, however, as is seen the world over, these limitations and regulations are put in place to enable wines to be of the best possible quality, enhancing their reputation.

 

In terms of branding, and denoting region of origin and grape varieties, like many French appellations have achieved over hundreds of years, England is a very difficult country to break down in the same way. Relatively speaking, our wine production levels are so low and our production industry so young, that it would be almost like shooting ourselves in the foot to try and break up the market that exists sparsely across the country.

 

A generic name for English sparkling wine could, it is heavily debated, give the product a catchier, sexier, and perhaps more marketable name. But in New World countries (Australia, New Zealand, USA), that don’t have a fancy name that genericises their top sparkling wines, it is the producers that have made names for themselves and paved the way for other producers to have the same success that they do. The brands that exist in English sparkling wine market are strong, and their products speak volumes. In any market, there are market leaders that encourage and expect competition from newcomers, and it is up to those new brands to build themselves up to a point where they can really compete.

 

If the need for a overall name for English sparkling wine (that isn’t ‘English sparkling wine’) is real, then it should be researched and developed among marketeers, historians, industry experts, and implemented by an industry body (like the UKVA, of which the prestigious Duchess of Cornwall is now President) for minimal cost, if any, to the producers of the wine. The implementation of a name by one single producer denotes the fact that they are the purveyors of the name and therefore demand better traction in a market that should be fair game.

 

There is such development to take place in the English wine industry, with reputation and popularity growing daily, that this decision will not be taken lightly. If it’s not going to stay as ‘English Sparkling Wine’, as many producers, young and old, believe it should, here at Sparkling English Wine, we can’t wait to see the final result. Watch this space…!

Posted by Tom Jones | in In The Media, Site News | No Comments »

‘French’ Champagne invented by British doctor Christopher Merret | Mail Online

Jul. 7th 2011

 

The familiar ‘pop’ of the cork, the fizz spilling over the sides of the flute, and the bubbly dry taste — it could only be champagne. Or should we say, ‘Merret’?

 

For nearly three centuries, the French have fought to ensure that only the sparkling wine made in a particular part of France can be given the name champagne.

 

But could champagne really have been introduced to the world by a 17th-century Englishman? Many believe a Gloucester doctor called Christopher Merret recorded a recipe for champagne some 20 years before the French Benedictine monk and cellar master, Dom Pierre Perignon, who is officially recognised as the drink’s father.

In fact, so convinced is leading British wine producer Mike Roberts — whose Ridgeview vineyards are based in the South Downs in East Sussex — that he’s spearheading a campaign to name sparkling British wine after Oxford-educated Dr Merret.

 

It all dates back to a chilly December evening in 1662, when Dr Merret presented the Royal Society with an eight-page paper detailing experiments of English cider makers, who had begun adding sugars to wine to create a bubbly, refreshingly dry drink — remarkably similar to modern-day champagne.

 

Dr Merret noted how ‘our wine-coopers of recent times add vast quantities of sugar and molasses to wines to make them drink brisk and sparkling’. The academic, previously better known for publishing papers on smelting and tin mining, gave details of a ‘second fermentation process’ — a chemical reaction that occurs when the bottled alcohol underwent an increase in temperature and produced carbon dioxide — that now forms a key element of champagne-making, namely the ‘methode champenoise’.

 

Tradition — and the French — have always insisted champagne was invented in 1697 by Perignon. The monk supposedly discovered it entirely by accident: the wine he bottled from the abbey’s vineyards in the autumn just before the weather turned cool never fermented properly, only doing so when temperatures started rising again in the spring. This process — secondary fermentation — often resulted in exploding bottles thanks to the wine’s dormant yeast producing sudden carbon dioxide bubbles.

 

At first, Dom Perignon viewed this as a curse, referring to the new drink as ‘the devil’s wine’ — because one exploding bottle would often cause another to blow up, occasionally shattering entire cellars of wine.

 

But when the monk tasted the alcohol produced in bottles which didn’t explode, he started experimenting with grape varieties and realised it was a deliciously dry, fizzy drink by itself.

 

There are many wine experts, however, who believe the French merely copied Merret’s formula after visiting England. According to them, the Merret tipple proved tremendously popular in London, whereupon word reached France about the new craze — and it wasn’t long before wine-makers in the north-east region of the country sent spies across the English Channel to investigate.

 

Their excitement at the discovery, however, was equalled only by their frustration that it was an Englishman cataloguing such advances.

 

‘We definitely beat the French and Dom Perignon by at least 22 years,’ says Tom Stevenson, the author of Christie’s World Encyclopaedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, who has researched Dr Merret’s work. In fact, he adds: ‘Merret was not only the first to describe the deliberate addition of sugar to create a sparkling wine, he was also the first person ever to use the term “sparkling wine”. The first documented mention of the equivalent French term, vin mousseux, was not until 1718.’

 

Moreover, on the English side of the Channel, winemakers had also started trying to produce bottles which could withstand the secondary fermentation pressure — with some help from Dr Merret for, happily, one of his many disciplines included glass-making. He was helped by advances in British furnaces, which began using coal as the fuel of choice (instead of charcoal, after the British Navy requisitioned much of the timber to build a more powerful fleet), allowing much higher furnace temperatures, which were capable of creating stronger glass.

 

So sacre bleu — is it really Merret we have to thank for the reassuring sound of a cork popping? Ridgeview’s Mike Roberts thinks so, for although Merret did not invent the technique, he dutifully logged the process and allowed other wine makers to use them. Now he wants all British sparkling wine to be renamed ‘Merret’. British producers are keen to mark their sparkling wines as  uniquely English — in the same way the Spanish have cava and the Italians prosecco — to distinguish them from French champagne.

 

‘In no way do I want to call my wines champagne,’ says Roberts. ‘This is an English product and these are English vineyards.’

 

English sparkling wines are winning awards and increasingly replacing Champagne at glamorous events. The Queen served sparkling wine from Chapel Down, Kent, at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. And the Royal Family has even planted 16,700 chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier vines in Windsor Great Park with the intention of creating their own fizz.

 

Mr Stevenson, who found Dr Merret’s paper in the Nineties, admits the French are not happy with a discovery that questions their boasts of giving champagne to the world.

‘When I wrote about Merret, Le Figaro, the French newspaper, accused me of “trying to burn Dom Perignon”,’ he says, wryly.

Sour grapes, perhaps?

 

via ‘French’ Champagne invented by British doctor Christopher Merret | Mail Online.

Posted by Tom Jones | in In The Media | No Comments »

A very sparkling bottom

Jul. 6th 2011

 

To some, the idea of English wine is a bit of a joke, wrongly associated with those sickly sweet concoctions labelled as “British Wine”. It’s an unfortunate and confusing quirk of our labelling laws that “British Wine” is made from imported grape must, which often has sugar and other additives thrown in. English wine, however, is a different matter entirely.

There are now some 400 vineyards producing what is known as “quality wine” in the UK. Whilst all of red, white, rose and sparkling wines are produced, it’s generally accepted that the whites and bubblies are where it’s at.  In particular, English sparklers are now regularly giving their French equivalents a run for their money, with Nyetimber’s 2003 classic cuvee taking the top spot at the 2010 World Sparkling Wine Championships in Verona. I would certainly agree that the Nyetimber is a superlative effort, as are the Camel Valley sparkling cuvees, however last week (thanks to Brixton Cornercopia) I tried a slightly lesser known English bubbly that really stole the show.

Breaky Bottom is located in East Sussex, not far from Lewes. The modern day vineyard was planted here in 1974, and “traditional method” sparkling wines have been produced since 1994. What sets them apart is the choice of grape – Nyetimber and Camel Valley use traditional Champagne blends, that is to say Pinots Noir and Meunier, and Chardonnay. Breaky Bottom’s sparkling wines are 100% Seyval Blanc. This is a hybrid grape which is well suited to the UK climate, but sadly less so to EU wine laws. These state that only wine produced from Vitis Vinifera vines can bear a “quality wine” moniker on the bottle. This has lead to many fine Seyval Blanc varietal wines being marketed as “table wine”. This should not put you off – the wines are often delicious, the pejorative categorisation purely bureaucratic nonsense.

The Breaky Bottom “Cuvée John Inglis Hall” 2006 had an assertive toasty aroma, with bready, almost brioche-like flavours in the glass. What I particularly liked was the well-rounded apple fruit character. Some English sparklers can be on the nervy side, with elegance and piercing acidity, but precious little weight. In comparison this was positively full and fat, generous yet fresh and perfectly balanced. The floral Seyval Blanc character made it quite obvious that this was not Champagne, however the complexity and the elegance would easily be a match for a much pricier French “millesime”.

via A very sparkling bottom < Obscure White Grape Varieties < Wine < The Morning Claret.

Posted by Tom Jones | in In The Media | No Comments »

Susanna Forbes: Can England teach the world about making wine?

Jul. 6th 2011

 

 

Why are we asking this now?

As the UK becomes more professional in its wine production, so too do the practical courses on offer. Part of the University of Brighton, Plumpton College in West Sussex began offering viticultural courses in the late 1990s, with full degrees coming on stream a few years later. With Chris Foss heading up the wine department, Plumpton now has some 400 full- and part-time students, with up to 120 on its full-time Wine Business and Production degree courses, of which around 20% are from outside the UK.

 

In recent years, Plumpton, has expanded its strand of business courses, secured EU funding for an extensive Wine Skills series of practical courses aimed at the domestic industry, and ramped up its postgraduate repertoire and research capability under the guidance of Dr Belinda Kemp.

 

How’s it going?

The winery is well equipped, staffing has gone beyond critical mass, and Foss – half-French himself and with extensive Bordeaux experience – heads up a multi-national team. In addition, the department is due to break ground for new laboratories for its Plumpton Wine Research Centre in 12 months time.

 

Meanwhile links with universities such as Reims and Geisenheim are strengthening, exchange visits throughout Europe are becoming the norm, and discussions are ongoing regarding a possible Chinese link-up.

 

But why pick the UK rather than, say, Bordeaux, Geisenheim in Germany or Davis in California?

First, the production course offers a mix of viticultural and oenological studies, whereas elsewhere, often for historical reasons, “it can be one or the other,” explains Foss.

 

One of the college’s strengths is “it doesn’t just make wine in the style of one country,” says Foss. Staff and students give the place “an international dimension”, something which is not always evident in colleges in producer countries.

 

Despite family in New Zealand and contacts at Davis, Mumbai-based Dimple Athavia chose Plumpton because she wanted to learn “a more traditional way of making wine”. Two years in, she’s already worked at Furleigh Estate in Dorset, run by UK Vineyard Association (UKVA) chairman Ian Edwards, and hopes to do her vintage experience in Champagne.

 

Are there any language barriers?

Quite the reverse. For Rhône négociant Simon Tyrrell, Sussex beat France not just because of proximity to his Irish homeland. “Chemistry is hard enough anyway,” he laughs. “I wanted to be taught in English.”

 

“We are the only place in Europe that delivers [wine production] courses in English,” confirms Foss. This offers students great flexibility upon graduation, whether it’s winery work or further study that beckons. Having learnt English at school, Hangun Seob from Korea chose Plumpton. After qualifying, he hopes to do a Masters in France or California before returning to Korea “to develop wine quality”.

 

Is Plumpton the only place attracting overseas students?

No, the Wine Business Management MBA at the Royal Agricultural College (RAC) in Cirencester also has an international rollcall, bringing in students from Brazil, China, Bulgaria and India. The oldest agricultural college in the English-speaking world, wine is one of three MBA specialisations, alongside the equine and farming options.

 

“With the UK the number one wine market by value for wine, we offer a shop window on the wines of the world,” says former Waitrose buyer and senior lecturer Susan McCraith MW. From this vantage point, the cast list of visiting speakers is second-to-none, and students appreciate the course’s ability to cover all aspects of the supply chain with authority.

 

Why Plumpton?

For some, Plumpton’s proximity to the bright lights of Brighton and London is important, while for others like Canadian, Meeghan Murdoch, the closeness of Europe was critical. A diverse range of study trips and harvest internships becomes possible, such as Hangun’s forthcoming stint at a biodynamic winery near Maury.

 

How do people find out about the courses?

Without huge budgets, for Plumpton it’s via Brighton University’s marketing efforts, the internet plus word of mouth – its alumni are spread far and wide. Over at Cirencester, although McCraith does advertise in the UKVA’s journal, for “the link with the domestic industry”, she finds her course gets many enquiries via sites like www.findamasters.com.

 

But after graduation, don’t overseas students just desert team GB?

Not necessarily. Often students will work for a while in the UK before heading elsewhere or returning home. In any event, this dispersal happens at all viticulture and oenology places of study.

With alumni like well-travelled South African John Seccombe making wine at Elgin’s award-winning winery, Iona, Tersina Shieh managing Hong Kong’s prestigious Independent Wine Centre, and Xenefon Panayiotou heading up the Cypriot government’s inspectorate of vineyards and wineries, the UK’s reputation would seem to be in good hands.

 

* Susanna Forbes is a freelance writer who runs a specialist website looking at all issues around drinks in the UK on her website, www.drinkbritain.com

via Susanna Forbes: Can England teach the world about making wine?.

English wine community split over new names for sparkling | Daily wine news – the latest breaking wine news from around the world | News | decanter.com

Jul. 1st 2011

Two new generic names coined for English sparkling wine have had a very mixed reception in the English wine community.

Nicholas Coates and Christian Seely

 

Hampshire-based producer Coates & Seely has coined the term ‘Britagne’ – pronounced ‘Britannia’ – in the hope it will be adopted for English sparkling wine.

Christian Seely, whose day job is managing director of the wine division ofAXA Millésimes, which includes Chateaux Pichon-Longueville in Bordeaux and Quinta do Noval in Portugal, believes English sparkling should have its own generic name to give it with greater prestige and reflect its increasingly high standing.

Launching their first wine last week, a sparkling rosé made from 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier, Seely and his fellow-founder Nicholas Coates said their dream was that in five, 10 or perhaps 100 years’ time, people might walk into a bar and ask for a glass of Britagne.

‘We don’t believe that “English Sparkling Wine” or “Quality Sparkling Wine” does our product justice – it’s too literal and bland,’ Seely said. ‘It’s like calling a Jaguar a Smart British Motor Car.

‘The term “Britagne” – which should be pronounced “brit-an-ye” rather than to rhyme with Champagne – communicates the fact that it is a sparkling wine produced in Britain but rivalling that of its Gallic neighbours.’

Wines would have to adhere to certain criteria to be designated ‘Britagne’ – made from the Champagne grapes, and with a second fermentation ocurring in bottle. The production method would be referred to as the ‘Méthode Britannique’.

‘An important founding principle would be to demand a minimum level of quality but to tolerate differences in style,’ said Seely. ‘The English sparkling wine industry is at a creative stage, and it wouldn’t be right to dictate style.’

Reaction from the established English sparkling wine community has been varied.

Leading producers Nyetimber and Ridgeview both agree that there is a case to be made for a category name. Nyetimber’s CEO Eric Hereema refused to comment on the term ‘Britagne’, however, saying that the English sparkling wine industry is still in its infancy. ‘It’s still too early for a category, and so too early to decide on a name.’

Ridgeview’s CEO Mike Roberts, who is also chair of the trade associationEnglish Wine Producers (EWP), has, in contrast, been working for some time on plans to see the term ‘Merret’ adopted as the generic term for English sparkling wine. English physician and scientist Dr Christopher Merret was the first to document the deliberate addition of sugar for the production of sparkling wine, in the 17th century.

Ridgeview currently owns the copyright for the term and uses it own its own products, but envisages it being a publicly owned trademark used by accredited producers meeting strict production criteria – ‘we would have virtually the same regulations as in Champagne, if not more stringent’.

Though Roberts would like to see the rules agreed for accreditation by next summer, he concedes that many English producers would oppose the move. ‘Controlling the use of such a trademark, and monitoring standards, is conceivably the kind of role that EWP could take on, but many members would argue against it because they wouldn’t meet the criteria. Those including Seyval Blanc in their wine, for instance, would automatically be excluded.’

It would be vital, he added, that members contribute towards the cost of marketing the generic term. ‘None of it will work without a real marketing push behind the name.’

The EWP, as yet, has no official line on the issue, but expects further developments in the near to mid-term future, as the sparkling wine industry gathers momentum. ‘Discussions within the industry so far have been informal,’ says marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve.

In Cornwall, southwest England, award-winning winery Camel Valley says it would never adopt any such generic term. ‘We have spent 20 years getting to where we are today, and we wouldn’t want to be lumped together with wines of varying quality,’ says owner Bob Lindo.

‘I can see the attraction for a new entrant to the market, but not for an established brand. Bollinger is more about Bollinger than it is about Champagne. On the Britagne name, I wouldn’t take it for granted that Champagne will be comfortable with that, however it is pronounced.’

Lindo added that English producers should be celebrating their English origins, and that the best generic term in his view would be the name of the region. ‘The industry doesn’t need a gimmicky name,’ he said. ‘ “English sparkling wine” might sound pedestrian to the English, but it works very well in export markets. The Americans and Japanese, for instance, love buying English things.’

A generic name isn’t always of benefit, added Lindo, who gave the example of Cava. This is a point also made by Stephen Skelton MW, a consultant to the English wine industry who first made wine in the country in 1977. He was scathing about the idea of introducing a generic term.

‘Look at Cava, Sekt and Cap Classique – none of those confer the notion of prestige that are meant to. We should put our marketing emphasis on the product, and on showing that it can be every bit as good as Champagne.’ He added that the lack of a generic term hadn’t held back successful sparkling brands such as Pelorus from New Zealand, or Schramsberg from California.

Skelton believes that Roberts has ‘a cat’s chance in hell’ of seeing the ‘Merret’ term adopted more widely. ‘The problem is that Ridgeview has used the term since it started, so it is associated with them. Also, Merret didn’t play a key role in the history of sparkling wine. He merely documented what was happening – he never got his hands dirty.

‘But even if someone thought up a dream name, some producers wouldn’t want to use it,’ added Skelton. ‘And as for getting producers to pay for marketing of the generic term, forget it – many won’t even cough up to be members of the UK Vineyards Association. These campaigners for a generic name are wasting their time.’

 

via English wine community split over new names for sparkling | Daily wine news – the latest breaking wine news from around the world | News | decanter.com.

Posted by Tom Jones | in In The Media | 2 Comments »

Sparkling performance! British vineyard to rival the French | Mail Online

Jun. 28th 2011

 

 

Award-winning English vineyards will soon be producing a record amount of sparkling wine – to rival the finest French champagne.

More of the grapes used to make traditional champagne in France are now being grown in the UK than ever before.

And with vineyards on the south coast of England just a couple of hundred miles from the Champagne region, the climate is good enough for makers to produce bottles of fizz to match the French.

A sparkling wine made in Sussex has just been judged the best in the world – and good enough to be served up at the Queen’s official banquet to welcome US President Obama to Britain.

UK-made sparkling wines are now so successful that the French are quietly buying into vineyards here and even establishing their own.

Top winemaker Richard Balfour-Lynn who last week opened an extension to his winery in Marden, Kent warned that the British climate made it difficult to produce still wines.

He said: ‘We should be focusing on sparkling wines to challenge the French and everybody else.

 

 

Warm: Vineyards in the south of England like this one in Cobham, Surrey, are close enough to the Champagne region to produce bottles of fizz that can rival the French

‘There are some good UK white wines but it is impossible to compete with New World producers and we would struggle to make a good red.

‘In terms of competing with Chile or South Africa for example our white wine will remain as minor interest.’

Balfour-Lyons, who owns the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin groups, added: ‘The UK pays the same duty rates as the other European countries and this make it more difficult for English wines to compete against wines from Chile, South Africa or Australia.

‘For English still wines to succeed quality must be protected and the prices need to be competitive – and without some sort of Government subsidy on duty this may prove difficult.’

The UK Vineyards Association which represents almost all the UK’s 160 commercial wine makers, is reporting a major rise in the planting of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, the three champagne grape varieties.

Mr Balfour-Lynn said: ‘Our climate is ideal for producing the right level of acidity and mouthwatering freshness which is vital for good quality champagne and sparkling wines.

‘We have the opportunity to compete with the best champagne houses thanks to our climate, soil and wine-making skills.’

The prestigious award for the best English wine of the year recently went to a sparkling white made by Ridgeview in Ditchling Common, Sussex, who provided the wine served at the recent state banquet for President Obama.

via Sparkling performance! British vineyard to rival the French | Mail Online.

Posted by Jeremy Cook | in In The Media | No Comments »