English wine (we say English as we have yet to visit vineyards in Wales) has come a long way, especially in the past 10-15 years, having moved away from the “hobbyist” culture that it was once perceived. It also has to be recognised that overall, the English wine scene is a recent phenomena that has around 60 years of practice under its belt – not a lot then compared to our counterparts where most have hundreds, if not thousands, of years experience behind them. Yes, it could be argued that the Romans may have cultivated vines, followed by monks and finally, some early attempts to re-establish viticulture in the early part of the Twentieth Century. However, we would argue that today’s culture has it origins in the 1950’s.
So, we would like to say at this point, haven’t we done well! Not only are great wines being made but internationally award winning great wines and with this emphasis, we need to be far kinder about this produce than often we are.
We still find introducing English wines a bit of a challenge, particularly with those who claim to enjoy wine. Often, English wine is still perceived as dull, acidic, expensive and no where near to being on par with its foreign counterparts. Then there is the choice of grape varieties that often have their pedigree linked to memories of a bland, acidic oxidised wine that was often the norm between the 1970 – 1990’s – and who can blame folk for thinking this way. However, it is time to shake off this perception. Yes, there will probably always be wines that resemble this description (and this can be said for wines produced in other countries – France, for example, can produce some terrible wines as well as some of the worlds most outstanding) but we think that this image no longer has any real credibility.
Wine making and production still remains in the embryonic stages of development and with this should be seen the advantages, such as the ability to experiment. This can include anything from vineyard management, the chosen varieties, sourcing and winemaking to mention just a few. We have already seen on our travels some great thinkers and innovators that we are sure will become leading figures in the British wine industry. From here, it would be hoped that we can now begin to define our wines and terroir.
We never cease to be amazed at how good English fizz is and have tasted some especially outstanding examples on this current jaunt. White wines are also beginning to come into their own and again examples can be drawn from many producers of well made wines at reasonable prices that are on par with their European equivalents. However for us, the jury is still out on English reds. We would describe most that we have tasted over the years as “all boob tube and miniskirts” – all up front as well as low in acidity and tannins. Some recent reds do seem to be showing improvement, especially in the length and finish and we have had a good example of a Pinot Noir. Time will tell we suppose and this will not prevent us from continuing to sample and taste.
A particular bugbear that we thought could be easily remedied is that of communication between potential customer and producer. Far too frequently did we come across websites that were out of date, giving the wrong information and often omitting as to whether they were linked via Facebook or Twitter, as well as emails and telephone messages not responded to. Poor signage as to the location of wineries that are advertised as being open to the public doesn’t help create a positive impression for the growing wine tourism industry – you know who you are!
Another is price versus quality. Most wines we encountered on our recent trip came into the £10 – £25 bracket, which isn’t bad at all when you compare this to wines from around the world and we would also say that the quality often matched this. English wine production is small-scale and often includes labour-intensive practices from just a few people, this will push up prices and should be taken into consideration. However, there are still one or two producers whose pricing vis-à-vis the quality of their wines simply does not add up and this will sadly reflect on people’s perceptions and give an excuse not to buy English. It will be a hard push to persuade anyone to buy a bottle of mediocre wine anywhere from £20 to over £50, when there are such great wines at more reasonable prices from other countries that are also not from high-output, mechanised producers – come on… we can do better than this!
However bugbears apart, this should not deter anyone from searching out or becoming more familiar with English wines – it would be a real shame not to and we should be proud of our producers and the commitment that they have made to making some very wonderful wines that we can call our very own. Go get……..!!!!