Wise up to English wine: We talk to Simon Woodhead, Winemaking Director of Stopham Vineyard
Even those who know their Chardonnay from their Champagne may not be experts when it comes to wines made from home-grown grapes. Simon Woodhead, Winemaking Director of Stopham Vineyard, explains everything you need to know about the flourishing English wine scene.
Q: Our weather is terrible. Do we really make wine?
[SW]: Although we moan about our weather, the climate in the South of England is actually only slightly cooler than the Champagne wine-making region of France. The soil and agricultural conditions are also very similar, making places like Sussex and Kent ideal for growing certain grapes, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
That said, the right weather at the right stage in the growing process is vital to ensure a bumper crop, and some years certainly provide better growing conditions than others.
Q: I’ve seen British wine. Is that the same as English wine?
[SW]: No, it’s not. English wine is made from grapes grown in, unsurprisingly, England! The grapes are grown and harvested here, before being processed into wine and bottled right here on home soil. ‘British wine’ is wine produced in Great Britain but using grape must – juice containing the skins, seeds and stems – brought in from other countries. This is not generally high-quality wine.
Luckily there are plenty of excellent true English wines being produced by growers across England that you can buy instead!
Q: Doesn’t England only produce sparkling wines?
[SW]: Some of the best known and most popular English wines are the sparkling ones, like the Stopham Estate Brut Prestige. Sparkling English wines are sometimes referred to as ‘British Fizz’ as they use the same grapes as Champagne and are fermented in the bottle.They make up about two-thirds of English wine produced.
However, some producers are growing several different types of grapes and creating some top quality still wines. There are also some excellent vineyards in Wales and the Welsh wine industry is growing.
Q: But are our wines actually as nice as those from France or Italy, for instance?
[SW]: Wine producers in England are making fantastic wines. Crisp white and sparkling wines work particularly well in our climate. For example, some refer to the Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc as the English ‘Sancerre’.
However, the proof is in the tasting! English wines perform consistently well in blind taste tests with experts and also prove popular with some of the finest palettes in the food business – you can find English wines on the menu at many top fine-dining restaurants across the UK.
Q: Isn’t it expensive?
[SW]: For sparkling wine, you can expect a price the same as Champagne. Not only because it’s of such high quality, but also because our vineyards are smaller and we produce fewer bottles than they do on the continent. English still wines are also a premium product, and although you won’t find them in the 3-for-2 bargain bin, they’re not sold at bank breaking prices either.
If you want to make sure you’re making the right investment, you could consider visiting a winery, or taking a vineyard tour. These will usually let you ‘try before you buy’ so you can find the wine that best caters to your taste.
Q: It sounds very exclusive. Where can I buy English wine?
[SW]: You can actually find English wines in most leading supermarkets (such as Waitrose and Marks and Spencer) and many independent retailers – we only export a small percentage of English wine at the moment which is actually a very positive thing. When you buy English wine, you’re buying a locally sourced, fairtrade product with far less ‘food miles’. English wines tend to be grown in a very sustainable and environmentally respectful way and there are also several certified organic vineyards in England now.
You should also consider buying direct from the vineyard, or buying by the case, as you can often benefit from good deals. Plus, you’ll be helping to support the English economy.
To learn more or buy quality English wines, visit www.stophamvineyard.co.uk.