The Brits are known for many things, their humor, love of tea, bitchy royals. But not necessarily for viticulture. And yet more and more grapes have been growing on the vines there for several years. The boom is being driven by some of the most exclusive champagne producers in the world, who claim to have discovered great potential on the island. However, Philippe Schaus cannot understand what that is supposed to be. The managing director of Moët Hennessy cannot do anything with the urge of the competition to get the vines across the English Channel. a mistake?
Champagne house Taittinger bought land in southern England seven years ago. So many hectares that you could build almost 100 football pitches on them. Competitor Pommery had even grabbed a few more hectares a few years earlier. Other sparkling wine producers such as Henkell-Freixenet are also trying vineyards on the island. Because the channel coast could prove to be a stroke of luck for the manufacturers. The calcareous soil is similar to that in Champagne, but is dirt cheap in comparison. The climate is mild in the region thanks to the Gulf Stream.
In the wake of the climate crisis and ever warmer summers, experts believe that the area could even overtake Champagne at some point. "During the wine season, average temperatures in southern England are about what they were in Champagne decades ago," wine expert Anne McHale told Euronews. A potential that champagne producers would recognize.
Stretching out your arms north and looking beyond the borders of Champagne is therefore also to be understood as an approach by producers to securing their own future in the sparkling wine business. Philippe Schaus doesn't want to know anything about it. Moët Hennessy has no ambitions to follow suit. The company has no plans to look for soil in England either, he recently told The Telegraph. Instead, the producer will "continue to invest in Champagne". He speaks of soil protection, moving away from monocultures, biodiversity corridors and ending the use of herbicides.
"In the history of all my Maisons, the idea that we are passing the land on to the next generation is an integral part of the model. And so it is also inherent in our current model," says Schaus. He means 26 maisons and houses that together make six billion euros in sales every year. He thinks it's nonsense that the sparkling wines produced in England could one day compete with champagne in terms of quality.
Champagne is about much more than temperatures. "The soil is very special. The craftsmanship is very, very special. Enormous efforts are made to preserve and develop this craftsmanship [in the region]. There is much more to a category like champagne than just the latitude," says Schaus .
In fact, there can hardly be any talk of a British sparkling wine tradition. It is just around three decades since the Nyetimber winery first succeeded in planting the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier varieties commonly used for champagne on British soil. Not only does Nyetimber produce excellent sparkling wine, the estate is also the largest in England. Almost 70 percent of the wine produced in Great Britain is made into sparkling wine. In the years between 2015 and 2020 alone, sparkling wine production increased by ten percent. Globally, however, output is still meager at around 0.2 percent.
The first bottles of Taittinger's British sparkling wine are scheduled for release in 2024 and will bear the sonorous name Domaine Evremond. The sparkling wine will not be allowed to call itself champagne, after all it was not produced in Champagne. If you believe Taittinger, you don't want that anyway. The company does not agree to a farewell to sparkling wine from France. According to the Austrian newspaper Kurier, the aim of the project is much more "to respond to the needs of the English public".
Source: The Telegraph, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Falstaff, Kurier, Euronews