Smart Living

Bottoms up for English Wine Week

Count: 1

The next seven days see vineyards, retailers and restaurants celebrate English Wine week. We salute the coming of age of a new national treasure

In 2003, not long after I joined Decanter magazine, I attended an evening to celebrate English wine, at Biddenden Vineyards, in Kent. It was a sad, parochial affair in dingy surroundings, with a depressingly hobbyist feel. I quickly determined that domestic wine was not something I would need to focus on too closely as editor of the magazine.

I returned to Kent last year, to visit England’s biggest producer, Chapel Down. Tasting through its fine, extensive range, eating a fantastic lunch in its vibrant, modern restaurant, and observing the scores of visitors to the lively shop, it was impossible to believe this was the same industry.

The transformation of English wine over such a short period of time is nothing short of staggering. There were a few raised eyebrows at the turn of the year when Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary, claimed that England was ‘taking its place among the world’s leading wine producers’. She may, as politicians are wont to do, have been overstating her case, but it is not patriotic hyperbole to say that we are witnessing the emergence – for the first time since Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc burst onto the public consciousness 30 years ago – of a new winemaking region, globally renowned for a specific style and innate identity. And while England’s producers have quite some way to go to match their New Zealand counterparts’ ubiquity, the potential – and quality – is undoubtedly there.

English Sparkling Wine Week, The Jackal

Chapel Down sparkling Rosé Brut

In just a decade and a half, the English wine industry has, by focusing largely on sparkling wine made from the same grapes as used in Champagne – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – carved a niche for a recognisably bright, light fizz. And the truly thrilling thing is that we are only at the start. Even five years ago, English vineyards yielded just 1.1m bottles in a year. Annual production is forecast to hit 10m by 2020. Yet despite doubling in the last eight years, vineyard plantings are still only a sixteenth the size of Champagne – and with the cost of land 1/50th that of its more famous Gallic counterpart, the opportunities for big players to make significant investment are huge. Champagne Taittinger recently planted its first vines in Kent; another million will follow across the country this year, while sales of English fizz hit £100m in 2016, up 33% from the previous year.

Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have paid £5 for an English wine. Chapel Down has just launched a cuvée at £100. Such ambition sums up the confidence emanating from producers. As we approach English Wine Week, with vineyards across the country opening their doors for events and tastings and a host of offers being rolled out in retail and restaurants, here are three more typically priced bottles to seek out.