ukvine regional editor Stuart Flittion appraises ukvine.com’s inaugural London International Wine Fair (LIWF) on the Future of English Wine.
The panel: (l to r) Neil Phillips, Susanna Forbes, Julia Stafford, Mike Roberts and Julia Trustram Eve.(Photo: Nathan Meyers)
The continuing success of English wine is sparkling – and probably in the Far East.
That was the message of the highly successful panel discussion at the London International Wine Festival hosted by ukvine last week (Thursday, May 24).
Panellist Julia Trustram Eve, the marketing manager for the English Wine Producers (EWP), said that about two-thirds of English wine production was for sparkling and was moving towards 75 percent.
“As our production increases, we are going to have to look at new markets and exports offer that,” she said.
Trustram Eve later told ukvine that there were many overseas markets that were open to English producers, including Northern Europe, the Far East and Australia.
She told the seminar, at ExCeL in the London Docklands and chaired by ukvine co-founder James Graham, that it was very important to build a “brand England” and for the wine to be of the highest quality.
These themes were taken up by Mike Roberts, MBE, chairman of EWP and founder of the highly successful Ridgeview estate in East Sussex.
Roberts said the climate in southern England was as good as that in Champagne for producing sparkling wine and that it was important to maintain a pricing structure that reflected the quality of the drink.
He also spoke of the need to look to exports, especially in countries such as China.
The Chinese consumed 1.156 billion litres of wine in 2009, despite a very low per capita figure, and it has been estimated that this will grow to 1.5 billion litres by 2014.
Julia Stafford, the founder and owner of The Wine Pantry, which sells only English wine from a small shop in the fashionable Borough Market, said she believed there was still a growing market for still wine.
Stafford said that more attention should be paid to the quality of labelling and the English should learn from what Champagne producers do well.
Susanna Forbes, who runs the website DrinkBritain.com, spoke of the need to increase wine tourism.
She said wineries should liaise with each other to attract tourism and that more should offer facilities and activities for children to encourage their parents to stay longer and spend.
Wineries should promote seasonal local fare and emphasise the importance of food miles.
Forbes said there also needed to be support from regional and national authorities for wine tourism.
“What’s needed is a greater appreciation of the value of wine tourism in terms of jobs and the local economy,” she said.
Neil Phillips, aka The Wine Tipster, said more wine producers should use social networking sites to communicate with young people.
Phillips, a presenter and speaker, said there needed to be more fun in wine marketing and that social networking sites were a cost-effective way of doing this.
The thorny subject of pricing came up during the question and answer session and Stafford said that producers and retailers should not be apologetic about prices.
Roberts said that with Champagne, drinker were buying “a bottle of marketing” whereas with English sparkling, at slightly lower prices, they were buying a good bottle of wine.
He later told ukvine that far from there being a downward pressure on prices, there was an upward pressure with Cava becoming more expensive.
It was clear from all the discussions that the future of English wine is very robust – and that keeping quality high and looking to new markets was the way forward. But there was also a general sense that it is an industry badly in need of support from the authorities, from national and local government to other industries and the food and tourism sectors.
Seminar post-script from The Wine Pantry
Afterwards, Julia Stafford described her views on the seminar on her website. She wrote: “This time last year we were still in the process of building our shop and, with almost 12 months of front line trading under our belt, it was a great opportunity to offer the unique perspective of an independent exclusively English wine shop based in the heart of London.
“Public speaking to industry is a daunting experience. Even more so, on a panel consisting of co-presenters we hold in the highest esteem and who have collectively paved the path for us to have launched our shop. My opening statement disagreeing that sparkling wine is the only future for the industry was not meant in disrespect to the vineyards who have earned the recognition they deserve in focusing on this growing sector.
“They play a crucial role in maintaining the profile for the industry as a whole and setting the bar. I hope I emphasised enough that English wine, and sparkling wine using the Champagne blend varietals in particular, wins international awards and has nothing to be apologetic about when it comes to pricing; as a rare, fair trade and high quality product. These wines are exceptional with the most expressive flavours and distinct characters we feel privileged to showcase.
“My statement was made out of respect for all the vineyards producing a combination that include or rely on high quality still and less known sparkling wine varietals, which also win International recognition or would, were their production large enough and ambition to enter them. Such vineyards include Breaky Bottom, Denbies, Stopham, Astley, Eglantine, Camel Valley, Ancre Hill, Bolney, Furleigh, Oatley, Sharpham, Wickham, Avonleigh, Giffords Hall… the list goes on.”