English still wine sparkles

The world’s premier cool climate wine conference was held in the UK for the first time late last month, a sign of the increased recognition of the country’s wine industry. For publication in week starting 13 June 2016.

More than 600 people from 30 countries arrived in Brighton for the ninth International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, one of the world’s most important wine conferences. It was the first time the symposium, held every four years, has taken place in the United Kingdom. More than 100 speakers discussed and debated current wine production and marketing issues over three days.

Keynote speaker Jancis Robinson MW said the location reflected the growing reputation of the UK as a quality wine producer, as well as noting London’s position as a key centre of the global wine trade.

On the first day the British government announced that English producers Chapel Down and Ridgeview had been chosen to be official suppliers for No 10 Downing Street receptions.

Tamara Roberts, Ridgeview’s CEO, said the announcement illustrated the government’s support of “the incredible quality, breadth and depth of the British food and drink industry”. Mark Harvey, managing director at Chapel Down, said the support from No 10 had arrived at “an incredibly exciting time for a dynamic and ambitious English wine industry”. Miles Beale, chief executive of The Wine & Spirit Trade Association said the prime minister had made clear his support for English wine. “It’s only right it should be showcased to the world at Downing Street.”

English Wine Producers is the UK wine industry’s marketing arm. Marketing director Julia Trustram Eve described the recognition as “an essential endorsement” of the industry. English Wine Week, organised by English Wine Producers, started straight after the conference.

Ridgeview are a family owned company dedicated to production of high quality traditional method sparkling wine from classic Champagne grape varieties. Chapel Down received six medals at this year’s International Wine & Spirits Competition, including a gold for its Three Graces 2010. Its new release Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2013 was awarded the trophy for the best UK white wine costing more than £15 (USD21) at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2016.

This proved to be the most popular wine in a blind tasting of 14 English still wines hosted by wine writer and television presenter Oz Clarke. People voted for their favourite wine via their mobile phone using software designed by Slido.com, and results appeared almost immediately on a screen above Clarke.

In the glass the Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2013 is pale like a white rose but has a distinct aroma like the best white Burgundy plus a slight creamy texture in the mouth. Grapes were from a vineyard planted in 2010, suggesting this wine will get better as the vines age. It was whole-bunch pressed and the wine matured in three-year-old French barriques for nine months.

Cool climate wines offered “thrilling possibilities,” Clarke told an audience of more than 600. Who took the prestigious cool climate regions of Tasmania in Australia or Canada’s Okanagan Valley seriously 40 years ago, he asked. “Many said it was not possible [to make quality wine] in Okanagan and Tasmania, and we can do it too,” he said to loud applause. He noted better viticulture and greater ambition in recent years after early disappointments.

In 1964 only about 1,500 bottles of wine were made in UK. Last year the figure was 6.3 million. A landmark event occurred in 1998 when Nyetimber was named the world’s best sparkling, Clarke said, an event similar to the achievements of Cloudy Bay in New Zealand.

Another wine the audience rated highly in the blind tasting was the 2014 Albourne Bacchus. It has a pungent gooseberry nose like a young New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. “Like the aroma of elderberry flowers in sunshine,” Clarke said. Winemaker Alison Nightingale said she picks early to retain freshness, and noted how the wine’s aromas evolved after picking. Some suggest Bacchus is England’s Sauvignon Blanc.

At one of the 26 seminars during the conference Richard Halsted, CEO of Wine Intelligence, offered some positive predictions for an industry witnessing a decline in consumption in traditional markets like France and Spain.

About 57 per cent of Chinese wine drinkers were aged under 35, compared with 29 per cent in the United States and 31 per cent in Australia. “China has added 10 million wine drinkers in the past two years, and will add another 30 million by 2025.”

And in the United States, a typical “Millennial” wine consumer will spend 70 per cent more this year on wine than the equivalent member of the “Baby-boomer” generation. By 2025 “Millenials” and “Next Gens” would represent more than half of the American wine drinking population, he said. “And by 2025, 17 million people of Hispanic origin will drink wine at least once a month compared with 8 or 9 million now.”

Peer to peer recommendations via social media were very powerful, Halsted said. He predicted a big growth in sparkling wine consumption among Millennials. “It’s the gateway product, Prosecco especially.” Factors such as television programs showing beautiful people drinking sparkling influenced consumption. “Emerging markets will matter even more over the next decade. The new consumer is likely to want different things in terms of wine categories. Is the industry up to the task?”

Steve Charters MW from the Burgundy Business School said it was vital to understand culture when communicating and marketing wine in emerging markets. The French had unconscious assumptions about wine, but it was not the same in China. “In China even the idea of matching food with wine is nonsense. Many Chinese prefer tea with their meals. It’s vital to understand culture and avoid pre-conceptions.”

Professor Damien Wilson from Sonoma State University said globally twice as many people were drinking wine now compared with the 1980s but they were consuming about the same volume. “People are drinking less but focusing on better quality.”

Words: 950

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