English sparkling competes with the best

20th June, 2014 by db_staff

English footballers may lack a bit of fizz in Brazil but there’s top tier competition closer to home, and sparkling competition at that. But does England have what it takes to make a lasting impression? By Simon Howland.

EnglandjpgA winemaker from Cornwall is one of only three nominated as Sparkling Winemaker of the year in the annual International Wine Challenge with the other two hailing from the Champagne.

Sam Lindo, the 37 year old winemaker at Camel Valley in Cornwall has already won plaudits including a hat-rick of ‘UK Winemaker of the Year’ awards but says this is special, “It’s like the perfect alignment of the planets, one IWC gold is great but two in one year and a trophy nomination, it’s great.”

Following the success of the 2003 Nyetimber last decade, plaudits for English sparkling wine are nothing new but, according to Matthew Cocks, wine buyer for the Cubitt Group in London, consumers aren’t entirely convinced, “There is still skepticism, customers still see English sparkling as trading down, especially compared with the big commercial brands like Moet and Veuve.”

But is going up against the big boys of Champagne the way forward?

Family owned, Camel Valley produced their first vintage in 1992 and expectations have changed according to Lindo, “I’d go out to Australia and see these massive operations and think, that’s what we need, we can take over the world.”

“But times change and now I look at some of the Champagne producers and see great-great granddads, 100 year old vineyards and that’s what we’re trying for now, something we can nurture.” Said Lindo.

Matthew Cocks also sees something in this approach, “English sparkling really hasn’t been around long enough to earn recognition or loyalty but if it can be tied to the current shift towards local sourcing, matched with Colchester oysters for example or locally sourced products, this could be the way.”

Intimidation, at least, doesn’t seem to be a factor at Camel Valley. The French competition comes with real pedigree in the form of Charles Heidsieck’s Regis Camus and Champagne Henriot’s Laurent Fresnet but this doesn’t seem to faze Lindo, “It doesn’t matter how well we do we feel we’re doing well, we’re always happy.”

The two wines behind the nomination are the 2009 Chardonnay Brut and the 2012 Pinot Noir Rose, wines from different vintages but not worlds apart according to Lindo, “2009 and 2012 were quite similar, very cold, which worked for us as we can deal with this better than the continent.”

And Lindo says the rises in temperature we’re starting to see are making life easier here but trickier across the channel, “With the warmer climate we’re getting better yields now but in Champagne, they’re having to change their management.”

And it seems a break is overdue for UK winemakers, “On the continent producers talk about good vintages by the number of days the temperature passes 30C, we get that maybe one day every couple of years.”

And does Lindo have any particular plans for the future? “ We’re going to stick with it, at least until the weather changes.

The winner will be announced at the annual IWC dinner on 16 July in London.

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