What a few weeks it has been for wine in UK! We've had the second London Wine Week and also English Wine Week; a whole seven days dedicated to celebrating the wonderful wines that are being produced in the UK - sparkling, still and even sweet.
As most English winemaking is still a new industry and we basically keep most of it ourselves, we don't yet cover English wine on WSET courses, but with the strides in quality being made by our contingent of passionate, dynamic winemakers, I am looking forward to watching the world find out more about English wines.
There's never been a more exciting time to be involved in English wine. In the UK our tastes are changing; more and more we are paying close attention to what is on our plates, and in our glass.
You may find it slightly tiresome how overused buzz words are like 'locally sourced', 'provenance' and 'artisan'. Whilst marketers may be making the most out of this run on produce with a story, English wine has been steadily working away, creating exceptional quality wines with all the attributes one would find on the menu of a chic café in South London but without the pretentiousness.
My fellow wine tutor and WSET's Business Development Manager for the South East, Mike Best, visited three of England's top producers (Bolney Wine Estate, Ridgeview Wine Estate & Gusbourne Estate) to find out what's been happening behind the scenes. The interviews lasted around twenty minutes but could have gone on for hours; such was the passion and willingness to share the knowledge from the terrific people he met. English wine really is in good hands with such talented individuals working at its heart.
For a compilation of these interviews, visit the WSET YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxhV3Gvr_E8
A further reason to celebrate is the news that English wine has just enjoyed its biggest harvest ever. Having also received a record haul of medals at recent international blind wine tasting competitions, quantity and quality appear to be going hand in hand.
Following his discussions with these producers, Mike had this to say; "Of course it's far from easy to make good wine in England; whilst 2014 was a vintage enjoyed all over the UK, 2012 was a damp, miserable squib of a vintage. The year remembered for the London Olympics was disdainfully forgotten by the English wine fraternity for rain, drizzle and temperatures struggling to get out of the mid-teens..."
Looking to the future, the influence of global warming, coupled with a better scientific understanding in the winery and the vineyard, makes England a tremendously exciting place to make wine. It is what we would refer to as a 'Cool Climate' or even marginal wine region. Cool climate wines have become increasingly popular as consumers look for a fresher style of wine, naturally lower in alcohol. In fact, the international winemaking scene has recognised this and in 2016 the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium will be held in... you've guessed it...Brighton.
A cool climate is good for making wine because it pushes the vine to produce the best tasting grapes it possibly can. Much like us, if we led a very leisurely lifestyle we would grow fat and lazy, but put under enough (but not too much) stress, we're more likely to produce our best work.
In the early days of English wines they followed the route of German wines, planting hardy, little known grapes like Seyval Blanc, Müller-Thurgau and Rondo. Now the focus is much more on the trio of grapes used to make Champagne - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
'English Quality Sparkling Wine' must be made in the traditional method - the same method used for Champagne, Cava & Crémant. This essentially means that a second fermentation takes place in the bottle (this is where the bubbles come from). A number of good still whites, roses and one or two reds are also produced. Armed with prestigious grape varieties, perfect chalky soils and a long, slow ripening process, winemakers are very excited about the prospect of English Wine and I think we all should be too.
What more can I say? Like anything in the amazing world of wine you just need to go out and try them, visit your local vineyard and of course if you want to learn more about wines & spirits, come and see us on a WSET course.
To learn more about these wines or to further your wine education, courses from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) offer a step-by-step approach to building up your wine and spirits knowledge. Visit www.WSETglobal.com for more information and to find your nearest course provider.