* England is home to 432 vineyards and 124 wineries
* Nyetimber plans to begin exporting to U.S. in 2014
* Eyes expansion in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and
* Digby Fine English "cultivating enthusiasm" for premium
By Martinne Geller
LONDON, Dec 31 With revellers raising a glass of
bubbly to the new year, England's tiny sparkling wine industry
is set for a lift in 2014 as established brands step up export
plans and newcomers join the party.
Internationally, England may be known for its ale, cider and
gin, but it is also home to 432 vineyards and 124 wineries,
mostly along the southeast coast, which has similar geology and
climate to France's Champagne region across the Channel.
English sparkling wine remains a drop in the bucket compared
with its continental cousins, but producers are determined to
hang on to their premium positioning, selling at an average of
25 pounds ($40.89) a bottle even as many cost-conscious Britons
turn from champagne to cheaper cava from Spain and prosecco from
"We see ourselves as a luxury brand and we have to be judged
on a world stage, not just an English stage," said Julian Kirk,
head of sales for West Sussex winemaker Nyetimber, one of the
longest-established names in English sparkling wine and owner of
10 percent of the country's vineyards.
"The British market is great, but we can't depend on it for
the long-term future," Kirk added.
Those efforts have made the wine community sit up and take
notice in recent years, earning British bubbly more than its
fair share of awards.
Among them was East Sussex winemaker Ridgeview's triumph at
the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards, ahead of a number of more
illustrious champagne producers.
English sparkling wines punched above their weight again
this year, with three gold medals in the prestigious
International Wine Challenge. The winners were Nyetimber,
Gusbourne Estate in Kent and Dorset producer Furleigh Estate.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Nyetimber
began exporting to Japan in May and Denmark in September.
With more than two decades of production under its belt
since the 1992 debut vintage, it is likely to start selling in
the United States in 2014 and is also eyeing Singapore, Hong
Kong, Australia and Denmark's Nordic neighbours, Kirk said.
English sparkling wine sold 55,000 nine-litre cases in its
home market in 2012, according to wine data specialist IWSR,
having achieved compound annual growth of 13 percent over the
past five years.
That gave it 0.6 percent of the 9.1 million cases of bubbly
sold in Britain last year.
Spain, France and Italy together control 87 percent of the
market, though Spain recently pulled ahead of France because of
the popularity of cava as a low-cost enjoyable sparkling wine,
IWSR's Helen Windle said.
IWSR predicts that sales of sparkling wine will grow faster
than any other wine category in Britain over the next few years,
adding 1.7 million cases between 2012 and 2018, at a compound
annual growth rate of 2.8 percent.
For champagne makers such as LVMH, Pernod Ricard
and Laurent Perrier, there has been
increasing speculation that they might be looking to purchase
vineyards in Britain, their biggest export market.
"If we have the time, will and passion, it's possible (to
make great sparkling wine in England)," said Pierre-Emmanuel
Taittinger, president of the champagne house that bears his
family name, though he said it has no such plans at present.
Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director for the English Wine
Producers trade group, said that the winemakers must retain
their focus on quality.
Though part of this comes from the cool weather that gives
the grapes high acidity, it is also down to the traditional
production method, in which second fermentation takes place
inside each bottle rather than in bulk tanks.
"It's in our interest to make sure that anyone involved in
the industry and the production of this premium wine is going to
keep to those levels of quality, for the sake of our own
reputation," she said.
Digby Fine English, one of the newest English winemakers, is
sticking to that strategy. Its first vintage, 2009, has just
gone on sale at upmarket outlets such as Selfridges department
store and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Trevor Clough, Digby's corporate strategist-turned-CEO, says
that the industry's small size helps to support its premium
price as it builds its reputation slowly but surely.
"We're not really at the point where we want everyone to
know and everyone to want to buy English wine all the time,"
"It's all about focusing on early adopters and cultivating