TW Creative was lucky enough to be invited to a sparkling talk about Champagne and English wine on a Wednesday evening, led by Kevin McKee, the Sole UK Agent for Taittinger champagne.

“More than a wine, champagne is a symbol…” began Kevin McKee. A symbol of wealth, Champagne has had a wonderful association with luxury, royalty and Formula 1, that has led to it being the drink of decadence, and the chosen feature at any celebration of success or special occasion.

Although Champagne has been produced since Roman times, in the region of the same name in North-East France, it was really in England, in the 17th century, where it became extremely popular in high society, following the arrival of the epicurean Frenchman, Charles de Saint-Evremond in 1661. And it was English glass-makers who produced durable, strong bottles and re-discovered cork stoppers that enabled the Champagne to retain its bubbly uniqueness.

In its beginnings, the light, pale coloured wine was considered to be much inferior to its Burgundy neighbours’ wine. In 987, however, when Hugh Capet was crowned the King of France at Reims, he made the fortunate decision to start a tradition of having the local wine for coronation banquets. As all coronations were held at Reims, Champagne began its association with royal occasions.

In the early 20th century, the Champagne industry was hit by the effect of the Russian Revolution, World War I and II, and the US prohibition. But since the 1950s, sales of Champagne have soared.

In the last few years, the popularity of Prosecco has grown rapidly and threatens to knock Champagne off its pedestal. However, Brexit is the greatest threat of them all; increasing the price of any imported wine.

Which leads sweetly on to one of a few reasons why English sparkling wine may enjoy a bright future. Combined with global warming, the chalk rich areas of the South-East and Eastern England are ideal for growing the grapes that are used to produce sparkling wines. And now we hear that the Champagne houses of France are coming to England and using their expertise to produce sparkling wines*

There are already some firmly established English wine producers, including Stopham Estate*, whose wine was chosen for the Queen’s party on the Royal Barge at her Diamond Jubilee celebrations and is served at top restaurants, such as Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Its owner, Simon Woodhead, a former Formula 1 engineer, says,

“I’m proud to be part of a group of over one hundred English wineries producing premium wines that are gaining international recognition. The quality of English sparkling wine has been compared to Champagne – so much so that even Taittinger has started planting vineyards here in England! It’s fantastic to see an increasing awareness of the importance and benefits of buying local and supporting British industries.”

Interested in more local wine brands, here’s the Independent’s latest hot list.

*News article on Tattinger planting vines in the UK.

*Link to Stopham Estate’s Vineyard, UK.

by Natasha Gray