English sparkling sends out right message

2013 marked a major step forward for English sparkling wine, as demand moves beyond novelty appeal to become increasingly founded on a reputation for high quality and good value.

English wineReporting a significant development in attitudes during the last year, Liberty Wines’ managing director David Gleave MW told the drinks business: “Twelve months ago a lot of people were saying that English sparkling wine was too expensive. Today they’re raving about it and saying ‘aren’t they good value!’ They’ve seen how it stands up to the competition.”

Liberty’s own portfolio now carries three different English sparkling wine producers: Coates & Seely, Nyetimber and a more recent arrival on the scene in the form of Hattingley Valley, which planted its vineyards in 2008 and launched its maiden brut rosé from the 2011 vintage earlier this week. Liberty also represents still wines from Stopham Vineyard in West Sussex.

“Three years ago we would never have had that many,” remarked Gleave as evidence of how demand for English wine has grown in recent years.

“People may buy for the first time on novelty but now the wines stand up,” he remarked, predicting a bright future for the category “as long as they stick to quality – it’s got to be premium.”

Looking more generally at the UK sparkling wine market, which continues to grow against a flat or declining performance from other wine categories, Gleave suggested: “The advent of English sparkling has opened up the market – and for other sparkling wines too. It’s broken down the barriers.”

In particular he identified the success of English sparkling in carving out a niche between an outlet’s cheapest sparkling option and its big name Champagne brand at the top end. “To me that makes perfect sense,” remarked Gleave, who suggested that Franciacorta is also benefiting at this level, especially when sold by the glass.

As the English sparkling wine category continues to expand and cement its reputation, some producers are starting to look seriously at building an export business.

Among these is Hattingley Valley, which returns to ProWein on the English Wine Producers’ stand for a second year in 2014 and is planning to take a stand of its own at Vinexpo Hong Kong in May.

Commenting on the producer’s potential in Asia, Hattingley Valley brand manager Robin Lane told db: “The indications are quite good. A guy took a pallet from us at ProWein and shipped it to Hong Kong.”

Although Hattingley Valley only has 10 hectares of its own vineyard, the producer currently buys grapes from another 50ha. Adding that “vineyards are coming to us all the time,” Lane suggested that it could soon have “up to 700,000 bottles to sell, at which point, he remarked, “we have to export.”

In such a young industry whose marginal climate throws up challenging vintages such as 2012, when several English producers abandoned picking altogether and Hattingley Valley picked only two tonnes of fruit, the rate of future evolution remains difficult to predict. However, Lane remarked: “If we’re exporting 5-10% of production in 10 years time in maybe 15 markets then I’d be pretty happy.”

As for the appeal of English sparkling wine outside its domestic market, Lane noted the large number of curious visitors who visited the stand at ProWein last year. “Because we’re the new kids on the block, I think that makes a story,” he suggested.

Longer term, Lane maintained that the number of obvious parallels with Champagne would stand the English sparking category in good stead. “The message is that we’re making top quality fizz from the same grape varieties as Champagne with the same soil and similar climate so it should be similar quality.”

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