English sparkling wine is fast becoming a world leader in the industry. And not just for the fine quality of the product. Creative producers are using ideas from their predecessors, and those at the cutting edge of technology innovation.

Its quality has been rubber stamped by being served at prestigious events, like official State dinners. It also won at the International Wine and Spirits Competition awards’ category ‘Winemaker of the Year Award’ in 2018. It’s be great to see the industry grow from strength to strength with continued investment in research and development.

Government involvement

The government press release of 19th December has the whisper of a proud parent about it. “English sparkling wine is fast becoming a leader on the global stage – not just for its exceptional quality and dedicated producers, but also with the industry’s thirst to drive innovation.”

The tone is understandable, given the £6m of government investment received by the wine industry, and administered through Innovate UK.

Victoria Prentis, the Food Minister, said: “It’s fantastic that English sparkling wine is being increasingly recognised as the premium drink of choice to celebrate Christmas here in the UK.

Growers and producers in England set a high bar internationally, thanks to their thirst for innovation and due to unique methods of managing their estates. It is truly inspiring to see ecologically-friendly and surprising ways to make sure the vineyards are well-maintained and that the soil is as nutrient-rich as possible.”

What kind of innovations are we talking about?

Well, this is where this sector gets really interesting. Some of the R&D innovations are all about the latest technology, but some are going back to ancient ways.

Historical inspiration

Growing grapes in England is recorded as far back as the 11th century, with the Doomsday Book referring to vineyards in the south of England. One of the largest companies continuing this fine tradition today is Nyetimber. And they’ve taken inspiration from Roman cultivation techniques.

They use sheep to maintain and replenish their dormant vineyards. Their grazing keeps weeds and grass down, and they fertilise the soil with their droppings. Simple, natural and completely ecologically sound.

Cutting edge tech

Innovate UK funding has also been used to develop the use of high-tech in the production of English sparkling wine. One example of this is a system that can extend the shelf life of the grapes by identifying and taking out any micro-organisms, or other “harmful debris”, from the grapes. This then decreases both CO2 emissions and the amount of waste within the industry.

Another example is to deal with the UK’s notoriously fluctuating weather. Some R&D in the sector is focused on weather prediction and how to protect the vines from its effect. Weather forecast services and digital weather stations are both useful tools for this job.

There is a whole list of other elements of the industry that investment from Innovate UK has helped fund.

Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) Chair, Simon Robinson, said:

“Our fast growing industry is poised at a truly exciting stage of its development. There are now more than 700 vineyards across England and Wales, more than 200 of which will be open to welcome visitors when Covid restrictions are lifted.

“Our highest tier of sparkling wines continue to gain international acclaim for their quality and are competing toe to toe with Champagnes on a world stage. This year we focussed on increasing awareness in this hero style, now referred to as our Classic Method sparkling wines. We can also boast a widely acclaimed industry sustainability scheme adopted by an ever increasing number of vineyards and wineries.

“With support from government and inward investment from individuals and even Champagne houses, we are growing our reputation as one of the world’s most exciting emergent wine regions. There has never been a better time to celebrate Christmas with a bottle of English or Welsh sparkling wine.”

Get in some English sparkling wine for your New Year toast and you can ‘cheers’ with extra enthusiasm, knowing that you’re supporting wonderful British businesses.

Jamie Smith