In 2008, food critic Jay Raynor wrote, “English wine is like Belgian rock or German disco: a waste of everyone’s time and money.” In the years since, Germany has won the Eurovision Song Contest with one of the competition’s most landslide victories and English Sparkling Wine has boomed. Perhaps Belgium’s turn is next, but we can’t help with that. Instead here we answer the question:
“Why English Quality Sparking Wine?”
The loam, sandstone and chalk soils in the south of England have theoretically always provided the perfect terroir for growing grapes to make excellent sparkling wines. However, it is only in the last decade, thanks both to changes in the climate and an increase in the level of knowledge and investment, that the true potential of this terroir is being recognised and realized.
According to Chris Foss, head of the wine department at Plumpton College, “Thirty years ago, it was impossible to ripen…Chardonnay grapes. It didn’t work. But now there’s no problem.”
There are now over 140 wineries throughout England and Wales, producing over 4 million bottles of sparkling wine a year; a number that is predicted to more than double in the next ten years.
In 2018, the category won more gold medals than Champagne for the first time ever at the Sommelier Wine Awards, whilst in the vineyard growers enjoyed “the harvest of a decade”. As Collette O’Leary, head winemaker at Henners, puts it:
“We’re…getting better at understanding how to grow grapes in our climate, how to get better quality grapes even in difficult years… As an industry the skills coming into it are immense. So, over the next few years the industry is going to continue to grow and grow.”
The success and increasing potential of the UK’s budding winemaking industry has caught the attention of several Champagne houses, Tattinger and Vranken-Pommery Monopole amongst them, and many have invested in land and infrastructure to both support and be a part of this burgeoning market.
“So then, why Henners?”
We obviously think Henners is a special place; it is the home not only of our range of sparkling wines, but also our delightful still wines and our glorious gin, and it also led us to our first home-brewed beers.
But emotions aside, it is literally a special place, with a unique combination of soils and microclimate that are perfect for growing distinctive and flavourful grapes. Traditional Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, are planted on south-facing slopes of sand and clay (similar to the Marne Valley) overlooking the Pevensey Levels, a protected site of special scientific interest leading down to the coast.
English Sparkling Wine may have been the butt of culinary jokes in decades past, but it is clear to see that this is no longer the case, and there are big plans on the cards for Henners. As well as adding to the range produced from our English garden vineyard, we have also added to the team with Collette O’Leary joining as Head Winemaker alongside Estate Manager, Colm Evans. Over the next few years we will also be expanding both the vineyards and winery.
We can’t wait to bring you along on this exciting journey into a new world of sparkling wine!