Pommery first Champagne house to release English fizz

Vranken-Pommery has become the first of the big Champagne houses to release an English sparkling wine, having launched its debut release from the south coast under its new Louis Pommery label earlier this month.

Pommery’s first English sparkling wine – Louis Pommery England.

The house revealed its plans to put down roots in England in 2014, announcing a partnership with Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley to use their facilities to produce its first English sparkler – Louis Pommery England. At the same time, Pommery was shoring up the purchase of a 40-hectare site called Pinglestone in Alresford, Hampshire, overseen by Clément Pierlot, who has been director of Vranken-Pommery‘s vineyards since 2004.

In 2014, he took charge of oenological development, and was appointed Pommery’s new chef de cave last year, taking over from Thierry Gasco, whose attention has been refocused on directing Pommery’s operations in the US, England and the south of France.

“We saw a hill in Alresford and we said, ‘we want that one’,” said Pierlot, speaking to the drinks business ahead of an event to launch their first Louis Pommery England cuvée in London.

“We knew, because of Hattingley, that we could make English sparkling wine at this site. The problem is that there are a lot of variations from one year to the next, due to the climate, and you have to find the economic balance. But we are convinced that if everything goes well during the year you can make very good wines.”

It will be several years before the Pinglestone vineyard bears fruit, with the first harvest expected in 2021 and full production from 2024, but Pommery is taking a long-term view of the project.

“The weather and climate is not completely the same [as Champagne] at the moment, but with climate change we assume that in 10 to 30 years it will be very different and it will be qualitatively interesting to produce sparkling wines in the UK,” said Julien Lonneux, Vranken Pommery UK’s CEO.

In the meantime, Pommery has scoured the English countryside, dabbling with grapes from mainly Hampshire, but also Essex and Sussex, to produce its first Louis Pommery Brut – a traditional-method English sparkling wine made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.

Its name pays homage to Pommery’s founder, and less than 20,000 bottles have been produced so far; the RRP per bottle will be £40.

WILD CARD

However while Pommery’s Pinglestone vineyard is predominantly planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Pierlot has a wild card up his sleeve – one hectare of Pinot Gris.

“It’s one of the varieties in Champagne but it’s not very widespread at all,” he explained. “We spoke to wine growers in the UK and they have some good experience with Pinot Gris, and it’s a very good variety in Alsace. Why not?”

Taittinger is, so far, the only other Champagne house to have laid down winemaking roots in England, having planted vines 20ha of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier at its Kentish estate, Domaine Evremond, last year, which will rise to 40ha over the next two to three years. However the house is yet to unveil the fruits of its labour in the form of a wine, with its first wines expected to be released in 2023.

With England’s south coast being watched by wine producers, Lonneux is aware that Pommery’s success could pave the way for more houses to set sail to the south coast, but is confident that Pommery’s global reach gives it the unique ability to venture outside of Champagne. Indeed, the launch of Louis Pommery from England follows the introduction to the market of Pommery’s first sparkling wine from California, also called Louis Pommery, which was released last year through a partnership with Cava giant Codorniu’s Napa-based winery, Artesa.

Clément Pierlot, Pommery winemaker

“I know that other big houses have considered it, but did not take the step,” he said. “With this group we have the ability to produce wines from all over the world, because that’s what we do – it’s our core business. We are not only in Champagne, but Camargue and the US and Portugal. For a group that just produces Champagne it could be tough to start from scratch [in England], but we are not like this. Our job is winegrowing and winemaking, so we don’t feel lost when starting a project like this.”

While Pommery’s English wine project is still in its infancy, Lonneux is confident in its progression, but realistic. “We will never produce thousands of bottles here in the UK,” he said. “We wanted to produce something that’s different and that adds value to what we do globally.

“We only go where we think that we can plant our own vineyards, produce interesting wines and control the full process from production to commercialisation. This is what we do – taking care of the land and then the wines.”

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