Denbies ups its sparkling wine game

English wine estate Denbies, owner of the largest single vineyard in England, has upped production of its English sparkling wine from 10% to 40% to keep up with rising demand.

Denbies vineyard

At 104 hectares, Denbies in Dorking is England’s largest single vineyard

The estate, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is keen to make the most of a growing thirst for English sparkling wine, though still wines remain the key focus.

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to the Dorking estate, CEO Chris White said: “Cash flow is appalling with English sparkling wine – it takes eight years before you see a return on your investment but the profitability is far greater than still wines.

“You have to educate consumers about the cost of English sparkling wine production in order for them to be happy to pay over £20 a bottle for it.”

In addition to upping its sparkling wine production, White has also broadened the reach of the Denbies range, which has traditionally been predominantly sold at the estate’s expansive gift shop.

Denibies winemaker Matthieu

Denibies winemaker Matthieu Elzinga dips into his white Pinot Noir barrel

White is gung-ho about the UK’s appetite for English still wine, which has long been in the shadow of its sparkling counterparts.

“We can’t make enough still wine to supply demand at the moment. Our wines are on sale in every major UK supermarket including M&S and Waitrose,” he told db.

And while Denbies Surrey Gold, a blend of Muller Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus priced at £9.79, is the estate’s best-seller, White is keen for his winemakers to innovate with experimental bottlings.

Among the more unusual still wines being made by winemaker Matthieu Elzinga are a Pinot Gris, a white Pinot Noir and an Orange Bacchus. He is also experimenting with white grape Solaris.

Elzinga is one third of Litmus Wines, a wine consultancy and contract winemaker founded in 2008 by Denbies’ chief winemaker John Worontschak.

His latest project for Denbies is a top-end zero dosage blanc de blancs made from hillside Chardonnay that spends an extended amount of time on its lees for added complexity and includes barrel-aged base wines.

White was candid about the difficulties the company faced in 2012 – the year when Nyetimber famously decided not to make a vintage due to poor quality grapes.

“We lost some key contacts like Matthew Clark in 2012 as we weren’t able to keep supplying them. It was a tough year and our worst harvest ever without a shadow of a doubt,” he admitted.

The estate harvested 40 tonnes of grapes in 2012 compared to 420 tonnes last year and also lost 10% of its 104 hectares of vines to frost damage in 2012. White revealed that the estate had experienced the effects of climate change through more extreme weather conditions and higher sugar levels in the grapes.

There are currently 15 wines in the Denbies range, with average annual production at around 400,000 bottles. In March German discounter Lidl started selling a trio of wines made by Denbies under the Broadwood’s Folly brand including a sparkling wine priced at £14.99.

Denbies Noble Harvest Ortega, of which less than 2,000 bottles are made a year, was the first English sweet wine to go on sale in a UK supermarket when it hit shelves at Waitrose last October.

The estate is planning on turning its guest house into a boutique hotel to increase tourism at the already popular site, which boasts two restaurants.

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