English winemakers are rubbing their hands as their sparkling wines start to give top champagnes a run for their money on the back of warmer temperatures.
Strolling through the Pinglestone vineyard in Hampshire, southern England, under a pale autumn sun, winemaker James Bowerman was in a jovial mood.
“The [Pinot] Meunier really enjoyed itself this year,” the vineyard manager said, surveying the vines.
This year’s temperatures have taken Vranken-Pommery — a prominent French champagne house that bought the estate in 2014 — by surprise.
“We had to water the vines in June, which is pretty incredible,” said Clement Pierlot, director of vineyards and champagne cellars at Pommery.
“Given the reputation of the English climate, we were not expecting that,” Pierlot said.
Intrigued by the rapid growth of vineyards in England, Vranken-Pommery jumped into the market after falling in love with the chalk hills of Hampshire.
Fifteen hectares of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the three primary champagne grape varieties, were planted there last year. A further 25 hectares are to be added over the next two years.
While waiting to harvest the first crop of grapes, Vranken-Pommery produced a first sparkling wine with grapes brought in from elsewhere on the British side of the English Channel.
Dubbed Louis Pommery England, the test was deemed a success.
English sparkling wine will “soon bring a level of cheer to British drinkers greater than that provided by French champagne,” British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove said, talking up the “opportunities of a changing climate.”
A study found that 34,800 hectares in England and Wales were suitable for growing grapes thanks to warmer seasons — including counties north of the River Thames in eastern England.