It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but the English are setting out to conquer the world…of wine!
In the past seven years, the acres of vineyards, primarily planted in the south east of the island nation, have doubled, with more planting underway.
This proliferation in vines means more wine in the bottle. As mentioned in a previous article ‘British bubbly to brighten VAFTA event’, sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the main stars, but still wines of all colors, white, red and rose, are now about one third of production.
To celebrate the landmark harvest of 2014, the last week of May, 2015 has been designated ‘English Wine Week’, with events and tastings taking place throughout the country.
Here in the US, we can purchase a number of English sparklers, including those crafted at Wiston Estate, located on the picturesque South Downs of West Sussex.
Owner Richard Goring was kind enough to share his insights on this burgeoning industry, shortly after he and his wife had been in Los Angeles to pour their wines at the BAFTA Tea, this past January.
Thank you for taking time to speak with me today about Wiston Estate Winery and your recent ‘California Adventure’.
Tell me a bit about how Wiston was chosen to participate in the BAFTA Annual Tea Party? You must have been thrilled!
We had been building a relationship with the UKTI (part of the UK government that are looking to promote British brands abroad) for the previous few month as we began to explore the possibility of exporting Wiston to other countries. Fortunately for us they were contacted by BAFTA LA, requesting some British wine, to bring something unique to this year’s annual Tea Party. UKTI got in touch with us and asked whether we would be prepared to send our wine out. I was absolutely delighted to be able to partner BAFTA LA in what they were looking to do. One of the challenges when you start to take your wine to other countries, is finding the right spring boards to launch from and this felt like the perfect place to begin. It has a wonderful mix of the two countries coming together around film and television and we were excited to be involved.
Was this your first visit to Southern California? What were your impressions?
My wife Kirsty and I had been to California in 2006. We had driven down the Pacific Coast Highway from Vancouver and had wonderful memories and were looking forward to returning. We stayed with some good friends, which always helps but the overwhelming impression one has in California is how friendly people are. Everyone was incredibly welcoming and interested by the wines and history of the Estate.
The BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party is a very star-studded affair. Would you care to tell us who you met or saw at the event? Were any of the guests surprised to be enjoying English Sparkling wine or were some familiar with your vineyard?
We enjoyed meeting and talking to the following: James Righton & Keira Knightley, Eddie Redmayne, Rosamund Pike, Cara Delavigne, Matthew Beard, Julian Fellowes and Lady Emma Fellowes, Tcheky Karyo, Steve Carell and Malik Whitfield. I don’t think anyone had tasted our particular wine before but a number knew that England and the UK were beginning to make an impression on the international wine scene. We were encouraged by everyone’s feedback about the wine and also delighted to meet the director of BAFTA LA and a number of the board members.
Wiston produces a number of sparkling wines. What prompted your choice of the 2010 Cuveé Brut to pour at the BAFTA Tea?
This is our signature wine. It is produced entirely from the 16 acre vineyard at home and holds all the characteristics of the chalky flinty soil (terroir) of Sussex. It has had over 3 years on lees and is getting better with every year. Though the Rose 2011 has won more awards, it had to be the Cuvee that was poured for the BAFTA Tea.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest misconception about English wines?
In the past some English wines produced have not been up to standard, partly because of the varieties of grape and also the styles attempted. Making deep, strong, red wines simply has not been possible with our climate, the ripeness is not there. However, recently there has been a vast improvement in the quality that is being attained. A large driver in this has been the swing towards the production of sparkling wines. We have fantastic terroir and climate to be making world-class sparkling wine and this is raising the profile and quality across the board. As is being shown in international blind tasting, in the sparkling wine category, England is out performing every other region outside of Champagne and catching up with the established home of sparkling wine fast.
You planted your vineyards in 2006. Have you noticed any changes, specifically climatic changes, since you first entered the wine business? Any thoughts on how the industry has changed or developed and what you foresee for the future of English vineyards and wines?
We have just had the warmest 2014 on record (according to US scientists) and there is much in the press about climate change. As a family with agrarian roots, it seems clear that in southern England there are climatic changes going on. The weather patterns are still erratic and this makes for some challenging years. In 2012 we decided not harvest any crop at all because the quality simply was not there due to the inordinate amount of rain throughout the “summer”. However, the more general trend has been for some exceptionally warm spring and summer periods leading to excellent vintages. This has led to a large amount of new vineyards being planted up, particularly in the southern parts of the country and greater investment in wineries and wine colleges. This is leading to more research, better skill development, education and marketing in one of the most exciting sectors to be working in at this time
Wine Tourism is an up and coming development opportunity for many European wineries. Does Wiston Estate Winery have a tasting room open to the public or accept appointments for tasting?
We are right now in the process of building a new cellar door tasting room and experience for the public. At the moment people are welcome to visit but tours of the winery and vineyard have been by invitation only. We are aware that Wine Tourism is growing and can see a time when people will be doing full wine routes across the South Downs and beyond. We are only an hour south of London and therefore very excited about the opportunity that we have to develop this in the future.
For more information on English Wine Week and English Wines, visit: http://www.englishwineproducers.co.uk
For more information on Wiston Estate, visit: http://www.wistonestate.com
Wiston Estate 2010 South Downs Cuvee Brut ($39.99) is available in Southern California through KL Wines