Figures announced at the Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) first annual trade and press tasting on 26 April 2018 (see page 30) show, unsurprisingly, that sparkling wine is dominating production levels, accounting for 68% of English and Welsh wines produced in 2017, with Chardonnay, Pinot meunier and Pinot noir making up 71.2% of all varieties planted in the UK.

While the reputation of English sparkling wine has helped to drive global and domestic recognition for the sector, there is a risk that the industry’s leading offering will always sit in the shadow of Champagne, compared as second best. Moving forwards, producers must look at developing a strong still focus with a defining style or grape variety.

As well as needing to combat the increasing number of sparkling wines flooding onto the market, producers should remember that consumers don’t always want to spend above £20 for a bottle of wine. Speaking on wine tourism at the WineGB tasting, Steve Charters MW, director of research at the School of Wine and Spirits Business in Burgundy, warned that English and Welsh wine producers must establish a supporting iconic still wine style or leading variety to work alongside high quality, expensive sparkling wines to avoid stagnation.

Drawing on the Niagara region in Canada as an example, Mr Charters stated that while the region’s Icewine is iconic, it is also very expensive and there are very few people drinking the sweet style every month, let alone every week, around the world.

But which variety is going to lead the way and should producers be coming together to form an open debate about the focus for the English and Welsh still wine industry? Bacchus, with its accessible and familiar similarities to Sauvignon blanc, may be tipped as being the variety which holds the answers, but have we been too quick to overlook other varieties such Ortega?

What about those varieties which are not yet planted commercially on our soils? In 2011, Michel Chapoutier, one of the Rhône’s most famous producers, told Decanter Magazine that he was actively looking for land in England and was investigating the possibility of establishing the Swiss variety Chasselas, seeing it as ideal for the English climate. While this variety is currently being trialled in the research vineyard at NIAB-EMR could this terroir-expressive grape become a defining variety for the UK?

It would be interesting to hear what producers, sommeliers, wine merchants and buyers consider to be a quintessentially English or Welsh still wine and how the industry can grow a strong still wine offering for the future.

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– Victoria Rose