Quality over quantity as English bubbly builds reputation

Tue Dec 31, 2013 7:54am EST
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By Martinne Geller

LONDON (Reuters) - With revelers raising a glass of bubbly to the new year, England's tiny sparkling wine industry is set for a lift in 2014 as established brands step up export plans and newcomers join the party.

Internationally, England may be known for its ale, cider and gin, but it is also home to 432 vineyards and 124 wineries, mostly along the southeast coast, which has similar geology and climate to France's Champagne region across the Channel.

English sparkling wine remains a drop in the bucket compared with its continental cousins, but producers are determined to hang on to their premium positioning, selling at an average of 25 pounds ($40.89) a bottle even as many cost-conscious Britons turn from champagne to cheaper cava from Spain and prosecco from Italy.

"We see ourselves as a luxury brand and we have to be judged on a world stage, not just an English stage," said Julian Kirk, head of sales for West Sussex winemaker Nyetimber, one of the longest-established names in English sparkling wine and owner of 10 percent of the country's vineyards.

"The British market is great, but we can't depend on it for the long-term future," Kirk added.

Those efforts have made the wine community sit up and take notice in recent years, earning British bubbly more than its fair share of awards.

Among them was East Sussex winemaker Ridgeview's triumph at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards, ahead of a number of more illustrious champagne producers.

English sparkling wines punched above their weight again this year, with three gold medals in the prestigious International Wine Challenge. The winners were Nyetimber, Gusbourne Estate in Kent and Dorset producer Furleigh Estate.   Continued...

Julian Kirk, head of sales for West Sussex winemaker Nyetimber, one of Britain's sparkling wine producers, poses for a photograph in central London December 23, 2013. REUTERS/Olivia Harris