History of English Sparkling Wine

A Brief History of English Wine

For almost 2000 years vines have been grown in this country for wine production but historically this wine was predominantly reserved for monasteries, palaces and large country houses and not for commercial sale. In fact, by 1086, when the Domesday book was compiled, there were thirty-nine vineyards officially recorded in England (although the true figure may have been much higher).

The production of sparkling wine of the ‘Champagne’ style owes a lot to a ban on the use of oak as a fuel for furnaces by King James 1 back in 1615. The subsequent move from wood to coal as a fuel meant that furnaces now produced a higher temperature and this led to the production of a stronger glass. It was this stronger glass that produced a bottle capable of withstanding the pressures required to make a sparkling wine. This then allowed the English wine Coopers to produce a sparkling wine over 30 years before the French perfected the process and made ‘Champagne’ famous.

However, it was not until the 1950s when 1 acre of vines were planted at Hambledon in Hampshire, following trials started in 1945 by Edward Hyams and Ray Barrington-Brock in their own back gardens, that grapes were grown and harvested to make wine to be sold commercially. Hambledon vineyard is considered to be the first vineyard of the ‘English Wine Revival’.

UK viticulture has undergone a considerable metamorphosis since those early days, and has been influenced considerably by the effect (albeit marginal) of Climate Change on the temperatures in particular in the South of the UK. It is this small temperature increase that has led to England developing a cool climate closely similar to that of the Champagne regions of Northern France and has allowed English vineyards to grow the true ‘Champagne’ varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. The marginal increase in night-time temperatures particularly, means that vines take less time to warm up in the daytime and therefore have more time to produce sugar and therefore higher natural alcohol levels.

As time has passed, the establishment of more UK vineyards has led to a considerable increase in experience and therefore wider knowledge, leading to better yields and more importantly better quality of yield. English sparkling wines are now hitting the top awards in many blind-taste tests across the world.

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