Thursday, May 13, 2010

The British are Coming! The British are Coming!

Only this time it is the French who are running through the streets in sack cloth and ashes and pulling the hair out of their collective heads.  French vintners have been complaining for a while of the potential impact of global warming on its wine industry and, conversely, its potentially beneficial impact on the fledgling British wine industry.  According to an article in, a French wine growers association, Vigneron Independant, blamed climate change for speeding up harvests in Burgundy, altering the taste of Alsatian wines, and disrupting the hydration pattern of grapes grown along the Mediterranean coast.  Further, according to Michael Issaly, president of the organization, if temperatures continue to rise over the long term, Pinot Noir could disappear from large swaths of Burgundy while grape-growing regions will move further north.

The worst fears of French wine growers were realized earlier this week when the 2003 Nyetimber Classic Cuvee, a British sparkling wine (anybody but the British), won first place at the World Sparkling Wine Championships in Verona, Italy.  Not only did the 25 pound sterling wine win the competition.  It won against the likes of Louis Roederer, Bollinger, Pommery, Gosset, Joseph Perrier, and Devaux.

The Nyetimber vineyard was established by Stuart and Sandy Moss, Chicagoans who, after completing the requiste research, realized that the soils and climate in Champagne and in the south of England were similar.  They realized that the chalk seam which is found in Champagne runs below the English Channel before emerging in Sussex and Hampshire on the English side.  With this information on the soil and temperature similarity, and knowing that the primary Chapagne varietals thrive in that environment, the Moss' thought that they could craft a world-class sparkling wine.

As a first step towards that goal, the Moss' bought 120 acres of land comprised of free-draining green sand over chalk with some areas of pure chalk.  They chose to plant only the classic Champagne varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) and to use equipment sourced from Champagne.  The estate chose to produce two vintage products: a classic cuvee (85% Chardonnay with the remainder Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) and a blanc de blanc.  The first vintage was produced in 1992.

The Moss' sold the estate to Andy Hill, Celine Dion's songwriter and he, with the help of head winemaker Cherie Spriggs and Vineyard Manager Paul Woodrow-Hall, has continued to produce fine wines.

Unfortunately for the French, this is probably only the opening salvo in a long-running war.  According to SpiegelOnline, "The concept of English wine was once as absurd as German bananas.  But England's summers have been warmer and drier from year to year."  Even though the number of vineyards in England fell from 416 to 381 (2008 to 2009), and number of wineries fell from 116 to 109 in the same period, the total vineyard hectares increased by 10% year over year and hectares in production increased by 20%.  While red table wine production remained stable year over year, white wine production almost tripled.  So the British will have many more opportunities to play the role it has played all through history -- French nemesis.

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