Have you ever found yourself wandering down the wine aisle and almost choke at the prices of English wine? Why is that? Let’s put the spotlight on the growing English Sparkling Wine market. This can be 5 times the price of a bottle of Prosecco, but what justifies the cost? I did a little digging, and this is what I found out…
The UK has been making wine for centuries until it was wiped out during the first world war. It was only revived in the 1970s thanks (…or no thanks) to the rising global temperatures. To this date, the UK has 164 wineries, which produces around 15.6 million bottles, which equates to fewer than 100,000 bottles per winery, that’s a tiny percentage compared to the likes of Champagne or Prosecco, where Moët et Chandon for example produces an astonishing 30 million bottles a year! The English climate is unsurprisingly a gamble for viticulture (grape growing to you and me), therefore yields tend to be lower compared to the likes of Prosecco grown in Northern Italy. The risks are much higher here too. The famous (or infamous…) Great British weather carries huge risks for vineyards here. Will we have enough sunshine to allow grapes to ripen fully? Will we get enough rain at the right time? The answer to all that is probably no… But the biggest threat to vineyards in Britain is frost, and it’s a topical one at the moment. Following one of the warmest April’s we’ve ever had, we actually had frost in May! This damages the opening buds and young shoots and has the potential to affect the yield. English Sparkling wine struggles to produce at a capacity that brings with lower costs of production, and so you pay for the quality!
Let me explain further. English Sparkling Wine is made in traditional method, where a secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle. This will create extra manual labour. Prosecco on the other hand, is made according to the Charmat method, where the fermentation happens in large pressurised stainless-steel tanks. It is generally regarded as being more automated, cheaper and quicker. One side effect of the traditional method rather than the Charmat method is that the pressure in the bottle is elevated - about 6 bars for English Sparkling wine vs around 3 for Prosecco. Thus, English Sparkling wine bottles are made with slightly stronger, thicker glass to withstand this higher pressure, and, surprise surprise (*Cilla Black voice*), is slightly more expensive to produce.
Unlike the production of Prosecco in Italy, English sparkling wine however is still a fairly new and rapidly growing industry, which only really started to gather traction at the turn of the 21st Century. Vineyards take about three years to establish, and traditional method sparkling wines typically takes at least two years to produce, so that's at least a five year window at the start for these new businesses before any revenue, and this is also the period when capital expenditure will be at its highest. That’s a lot of pennies the wineries have to invest before even seeing any revenue!
The big European producers have large marketing budgets to position their wines as luxury products. Bollinger is well-known for its collaboration with the James Bond films, Dom Pérignon in turn trusted in fashion and created a series of photos together with Karl Lagerfeld, showcasing the bottles in hands of some of the best known supermodels, including Claudia Schiffer. Moët created adverts where a beautiful young model heads to a limousine or posing in a ball gown, holding a bottle of its Champagne. This is generally not the case with English sparkling, with the possible exception of some of the absolutely biggest names like Nyetimber, who have been promoted at fancy, some might call stuffy, events like the Monaco Grand Prix, British Polo Day and Cheltenham Festival. So, some of the money you spend on a bottle of English Sparkling wine goes towards keeping our local vineyards and wineries going, no matter the weather. I know what I’d rather support!
Yes, English wine is expensive. But there are so many factors we need to consider when passing up a bottle of English Sparkling Wine for a cheaper one... Shop with us and know that your hard-earned pennies are going back into growing England’s green and pleasant pastures.
Cheers to you Vine-Os!
Mumma Vino x