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The Rise, and Rise of English Sparkling Wine

15 November, 2021

Colin Harkness / Twitter: @colinonwine / Instagram: colinharkness53

It’s now no longer correct to write about the ‘nascent’ English (and Welsh) Sparkling Wine business. A far better and more accurate description would be the ‘burgeoning’ English/Welsh Sparkling Wine sector.

In the 1990s, following some pioneering work in the ‘80s, there was an influx of wineries in England and Wales which gambled on climate change, buying land and planting the typical Champagne varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It wasn’t long before plaudits, medals and very positive media coverage followed. English/Welsh Sparkling Wine had arrived.

In the 2010s I was invited to visit two such wineries. Impressed, I wrote my comments in various publications. Other luminaries, far more influential and famous than myself, continued to ride the bandwagon enjoying sparkling wines of increasing quality. Wineries gained experience and expertise, customers enjoyed a home-grown option to Champagne. English fizz was on a roll.

The sector continues to flourish today. Other newcomers have joined the founding-father vineyards, including, though via a rather unconventional route, Breezy Ridge Vineyards where I recently visited to meet co-owner, Becky (with her husband Joe). We had lunch, a tour, a tasting and even a quiz!

Breezy Ridge was established in 2014, more by happenstance than design, but certainly none the worse for it! Joe’s parents hosted their son’s wedding in a large marquis on part of their land, in fact a ridge rising to meet the fresh westerly breezes of Dorset’s West Melbury. When the wedding was over and the marquis dismantled the land looked a little naked. Becky’s mother-in-law thought some vines might be nice, to improve the view. Perhaps there’d be a bit of fun making their own wine too?

The white varieties: Seyval Blanc, Solaris and Muscaris, plus the one red wine variety, Cabernet Cortis, took to the rich soils very well, quickly establishing themselves and producing good crops of grapes each year. Becky and Joe found themselves working hard on their day jobs and then using much of their spare time (not all, though, as their small family is now three small children strong!) helping with the vines. It was clear that a commitment had to be made.

The first commercial, traditional method, Breezy Ridge Vineyard Sparkling wine was from the 2016 vintage, both Becky and Joe quit their jobs and they’ve never looked back!

Of course, without any kind of winemaking background, they needed some professional help. This is where Daniel Ham stepped in. Dan, a Marine Biologist, had been working in New Zealand, when he became interested in wine and wine making. It was more than simply a passing interest. Dan returned to the UK, enrolled in the UK’s leading winemaking department at Plumpton College, qualifying with honours and soon working in the English wine sector.

With his wife, Nicola, also a Marine biologist, they established their small, but growing business ‘Offbeat Wines’, in an effort to make wine in their own style whilst also working for other producers. Dan now consults for a number of wineries which share similar ideals – e.g. low intervention, organic/biodynamic wines, including, of course, Breezy Ridge.

It’s clear, from the wines we tasted that it’s a good fit.

Becky, also has a keen business sense. Yes, there can be a profit made from producing wine in the UK, but premium profit will come from a premium product, therefore Sparkling is the wine of choice. But that’s not all!

Breezy Ridge has a busy restaurant offering lunch and dinner as well as offering wine tours and tastings (offered in a spirit of fun as well as being informative, one of which we enjoyed) – after a very tasty lunch. There are also events at Breezy Ridge – weddings, for example, as well as a whole family approach, pumpkin searching amongst the vines for this year’s Halloween! Other such events have been similarly successful and of course, the forward thinking Becky has more planned – she’s a natural! Watch this space www.breezyridgevineyard.com/.

Well, that’s all very interesting, I’m sure you’ll agree – but what of the wines?

Breezy Ridge Vineyards currently make three different styles of sparkling wines – Traditional Method (i.e. that which makes Champagne, Cava and others); plus two variations of the Ancestral Method, which in fact is the oldest style of sparkling wine, predating Champagne by 200 years or so! Breezy Ridge calls these two Ancestral styles, whose production methods differ slightly: Col Fondo (originally an Italian term); and Pet Nat (an anglicised French term).

We were given a blind tasting – the three were placed before us, individually in turn, without us knowing which was which. Becky was giving us a cheeky test!

The first, which we all guessed correctly, was the Col Fondo – slightly cloudy in the glass, with a noticeable pettilance. I found a brief whiff of ginger on the nose, with some citrus notes as well as sharp apple which followed through onto the palate. The medium length finish had some fresh grapefruit flavour on swallowing. For a non-traditional method wine I found it pleasingly full. A good start! I asked for an extra glass after the tasting!

They are enjoying very good sales of their Pet Nat wine, with clients all loving its fun style. It’s a party wine and Christmas is coming – you do the Math!

For me, tumbling around with the fruit and green herb notes there’s a little bitterness (this seems to be a house style in the non-traditional method portfolio), with perhaps a slight medicinal note. Food friendly, I’d say – think Breezy Ridge restaurant lunches! Citrus fruit acidity again, perhaps with a slightly pink grapefruit flavour providing an underpinning sweet/sour note. This will also be good with canapés.

Breezy Ridge Classic Cuvee is their Traditional Method Sparkling Wine. Although made in the same way as most other English/Welsh fizz, it is different in that it eschews the usual varieties, used also in making Champagne, and therefore has a unique aroma and taste profile. Bready notes, as we might expect on the nose, with again, for me, a very slight ginger fragrance, which I found delightful, complemented, as it was, by some fresh green apple flavours. Although only 5 grams of residual sugar, making it a definite Brut, I found it had a very slight, fruit inspired sweetness on the palate. However, I should say that I was shouted down here, uncompromisingly, by my fellow tasters!

So – the UK’s sparkling wine scene is very much in the ascendancy right now and as well as the many who recommend such fizz to pair with traditional Fish and Chips, I’d also suggest you think Breezy Ridge Vineyard when planning your Christmas Sparklers!


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