|English wine experts question need for regionality|
|Written by Laura Heywood|
|Friday, 25 January 2013 11:43|
Harpers hears from leading experts on English sparkgling about whether establishing a cru-based identification system would help estates promote their wines better on an international stage.
Last week, Harpers reported that leading English sparkling wine producers are calling for estates to shout about their individual growing areas in a bid to communicate their regional differences better (read the original story here). We opened the debate up to our readers to have their say.
Stressing regional variations is not the right direction for English sparkling produers, believes English wine expert and Master of Wine Stephen Skelton. "With most of the major producers – Coates & Seely, Chapel Down, Camel Valley, Three Choirs, Nyetimber, RidgeView – either buying grapes from, having growers under contract in, or owning vineyards in, more than one county, how can there be regional differences?" he asks.
"You don't hear Champagne trumpeting its regional differences because it is a multi-region, blended product. Remember how far the Aube is from Rheims... let's take a leaf out of their book."
According to Skelton, what the UK needs, and already boasts, is "good individual producers who create great wines and shout about them". "We need neither a generic name for English sparkling wine (which is the name already enshrined in law and which appears on every bottle), nor some phony regional based naming system. By all means, where there is an individual vineyard that has a great track record of producing excellent wines (like Camel Valley's Darnibole), then give it a special status, but otherwise, let's get on with the job of making, promoting and selling, really great English Champagne," he says.
The average consumer would struggle to identify the regional differences between different counties, let alone estates, according to Luke Wolfe, a viticulture and oenology degree student at Brighton University, who has completed a project looking for similarities and differences between English and Californian sparkling wine.
"I challenge anyone to line up sparkling wines from England and put them into categories as simple as south east and south west, let alone counties," Wolfe says. "My panel of 21 wine students with at least the WSET advanced certificate could not differentiate between Californian and English wines so the chances of the untrained public being able to taste regional differences within the UK in unlikely in my view."
While terroir can be expressed in still wines, Wolfe maintains that it can't be in sparkling wines. "The main issue is the characteristics which are developed in sparkling wine during secondary fermentation. Decisions on varieties and yeasts used, number of wines used for blending, vintage variation, production methods used, time on lees and time on cork all change the character of the wine," he says.
English producers should be focusing on establishing associations between their individual brand names and quality winemaking, rather than creating a generic term to group them together. That's the view of Nicholas Hall, founder of Kent-based Herbert Hall Wines. "I can understand why some producers may in the past have favoured a new generic term for English sparkling wine – a few years ago the term hardly set the blood racing. But the drive towards quality among the top English sparkling wine producers is changing that perception," Hall says.
"The best are becoming known as individual brands and highlight their brand name rather than a generic description of the product itself. If you study the label of a bottle of Herbert Hall you will indeed find the description English Quality Sparkling Wine – but only if you look very carefully; it is written in the smallest type size that we use. In contrast the brand name Herbert Hall is written in large capitals. That is because we want consumers to associate our brand name with our own particular house style of site-specific organic viticulture and artisan winemaking."
Hall goes on to suggest that the future of the English sparkling industry will be determined by "the development of strong, individual English sparkling wine brands, all making high-quality wine but each with its own unique style". For Hall, "the differentiation of individual growing areas is an important part of this future," he adds.