Recently I was at at the marketing conference for WineGB – the coordinating body for the English and Welsh wine production industry – mainly high quality, traditional method, sparkling wine. It took place as Brexit was coming into effect, and the feeling at the conference was very interesting. WineGB made a lot of the fact that they are British, and proud of it. Their logo incorporates the Union Flag. That isn’t a pro- or anti-Brexit perspective, just a recognition that this is what they do, irrespective of politics, and a pride in the fact that they do it well, and have great potential for the future.
English sparkling wine is just beginning to get a bit of attention in the global world of wine. Some is sold to Australia; American critics, like Eric Asimov of the New York times has praised it. With the departure of the UK from the EU maybe there is a real opportunity for it to expand on international markets. Unlike most British businesses they are not locked into exporting to the continent at this stage – the English-speaking world is more important. The industry is still exploring how to manage, structure and market itself, and just maybe freedom from the more rigid EU notion of a PDO (appellation) could allow it the leeway to evolve dynamically and creatively.
One of the things that WineGB want to do as part of their strategy is reclaim the notion of ‘British Wine’. British wine has been a major part of the market for alcoholic drinks from well before the time of English sparkling wine. However, its name is deceptive – it has nothing to do with grapes grown in Britain. Rather, it is made in Britain using grape juice from other countries, and turned into a fortified, rather sweet but pale imitation of good cream sherry (sometimes flavoured). It’s also very cheap, and beloved of those for whom alcohol intake is more important than complexity, balance and intensity. The best known of these – paradoxically given its reputation for fuelling hangovers and fights – has been made by an abbey in Devon since the end of the 19th century. The English wine production industry has skirted around this aberration for some time – scared of being damned by association with a competitor which bears no relation to the drink made made from grapes grown in the cool, sodden climate of the UK. Now, however, it seems that they want to take the competitor on – and come out as proud of the ‘British’ part of their moniker – which seems obligatory given the name. Maybe soon we’ll be talking regularly about British fizz and consigning sweet wine from French or Spanish juice to the vinous seconds bin.
Just one question for WineGB though. What happens to their name when Scotland secedes from the Union and part of the British Isles is no longer included?