Does England really make wine? I am going to find out!
No one expected this, did they? I am heading back to my home country to find out if England can really make wine or if they should stick to their Afternoon Tea. Now before anyone asks me if I am serious, hear me out. South-East England has a similar soil to Champagne and sits on the Paris Basin with its chalky soil, along with warming climate, the region has everything going for it.
For those who are wondering if England has been secretly being bottling sparkling wine for centuries, well not really, apart from the fact they invented it! So back in the 17th century, the French were having challenges bottling Champagne, luckily the English had come up with a bottle strong enough to keep the second fermentation in the bottle! However then the history goes south for a few hundred years until the late 1980s, when a renaissance started. The amount of wineries opening in the last 10 years has just been exponential, with currently over 160 and growing.
The strength of the English is really Sparkling Wine, with the chalky, marly soil this is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir heartland. Over 2/3 of the wines produced are of the sparking variety, however other still wines are currently being experimented with. These varieties include Bacchus, Richensteiner and Siegerrebe. Say that 10 times :)
Like all new regions there are always some challenges, and England is currently going through them. Firstly the price of wine, it is retailing at around the same price as Champagne. This is due to the labour costs, and the amount of investment required to turn a profit. The weather is certainly warmer, yet is not consistent, so some years produce a phenomenal amount of wine (2018), whereas other years not so much (2017). Secondly, the challenge of quality, there is currently only one PDO. Some prefer having only one PDO to allow them to experiment with different varieties etc. , whereas others prefer to have a classification or multiple PDOs to control quality. Finally, education, many wine drinkers around the world do not even know England can produce wine, and so that is one of the major challenges. I will try to find the answer to some of the above and how the wineries plan to overcome them.
I will be in Kent (South-East England) for around a week, and will try to taste as much English wine as I can. I have tastings setup at Gusbourne, Chapel Down, Charles Palmer and many more. As always I will write a full report after my visit so stay tuned!