Vines in a cold climate

The rise of English wine over the past 30 years, is a remarkable story. Award-winning drinks expert Henry Jeffreys shares insights on England’s newfound prominence in the wine world and discusses his latest book, ‘Vines in a Cold Climate,’ which explores the pioneers behind this revolution.

What first piqued your interest in English wine?

I’d enjoyed English sparkling wines for quite some time but hadn’t really fallen in love with them until I started research for the book that would become Vines in a Cold Climate. I hadn’t realised the sheer diversity and quality of wines being made in this country.

What inspired you to write a book about English wine?

I was approached by a publisher to write the book in 2021. He’d read an article on the subject and thought there was a gap in the market for a book with a fresh approach. As Oz Clarke’s book on English wine had just come out I wasn’t so sure, but the more I investigated and tasted, I realised that was a story about English wine that wasn’t really being told.

Can you give us a snapshot of the book and explain who it’s for?

The idea was to bring the characters behind English wine to life. There’s some larger-than-life, charismatic and downright difficult people in the industry and I thought by focussing on the human stories, the conflict and cooperation, then I could write a wine book that wasn’t really about wine. The book looks at how English wine got to where it is now, from being a joke to world class in about 30 years, examines the industry as it is today and looks forward to where it might be going.

The book is not aimed at the sort of people who normally buy wine books. Instead, it’s for readers of popular history, narrative non-fiction and travel books because it contains elements of these but, naturally, there’s more than enough wine stuff to appeal to aficionados.

Where do you anticipate English wine will be in say, five years’ time?

It’s very hard to say with any confidence but I’d say that the sparkling wines will keep getting better and better and ordering an English sparkling wine will be as normal as choosing Champagne. My two big tips are: still Chardonnay for Burgundy lovers, especially from Essex which is the warmest and driest part of the country; and Rosé which growers are beginning to take seriously. Reds will keep improving but will stay niche.

Can you share some upcoming wineries that we should have on our radar

For some of England’s best sparkling wines, I’d head to Langham in Dorset where Tommy Grimshaw just seems to be getting better and better. His all Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs are sensational. Westwell in Kent also makes some great sparklers, but I love what winemaker Adrian Pike does with Ortega making vibrant affordable wines that go brilliantly with seafood. Flint in Norfolk are the masters of Bacchus turning out something that is England’s answer to Sancerre. And finally, it is quite incredible what Danbury Ridge in Essex has achieved: ripe, full-flavoured reds from Pinot Noir and Chardonnays that compete with the best in the world.

Is any English wine in your opinion, ‘investment grade’?

It’s a tricky one as English wine has very little pedigree but having tasted older vintages including the Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs 1992, and Chapel Down’s Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2011, I know that it can age wonderfully so the potential is there. Certainly, wines like Nyetimber Tillington single vineyard, Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs and Wiston Blanc de Blancs have attracted interest on the secondary market. There are also various prestige cuvees aiming at Krug/Cristal customers but it’s too early to tell whether these will become collectable. Among still wines, Gusbourne’s Boot Hill Pinot Noir has proved popular for investors.

My only personal thoughts are that I hope investors don’t move into English wine and push prices up like they have done in Burgundy which even 20 years ago was comparatively affordable.

If you’d like to learn more about English Wine from Henry, his book ‘Vines in a Cold Climate’ is available to purchase now.

Financial investment carries with it a certain amount of risk and this also applies to fine wine

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