English Wine: Is England a Country?

My question relates to wine, not geopolitics, and is based on an “incident” with a wine app I use to “store” all of my wine collection and any tasting notes from wines drunk at home or in restaurants. I’ll leave the name of the app out for now! I recently began to expand my collection of English wines motivated by the chapter I had just written for my upcoming book “It’s Not About The Wine” describing our wine adventures of the past 50 years. I decided to start “touring” my own country more, both metaphorically from internet purchases as well as physically from vineyard visits. But I ran into a problem with the app which has England classified as a sub region of the United Kingdom. Ignoring the word “region” for a moment, geopolitically this is correct.

When you enter a wine in the app, you begin with inserting winery name, then wine name, then …… country of origin, followed by region, and subregion. So, as an example typically France, Burgundy, Chablis, or USA, California, Sonoma. These are designated wine regions and understood globally eventually drilling down into appellation and climats such as the village of Pommard and climat/field named Chanlins.

But what this app does is begin with U.K. on a level with France, England level with say, Burgundy, and then Sussex on a level with Chablis. Doing it this way means that at each level there is inequality which makes searching and retrieving wine notes on specific bottles very difficult.

Now, in a way this is trivial, though only in terms of managing my cellar, but it smacks of something else beginning with a member of the app team telling me that at first it was set up that way because England isn’t a country, it’s a nation state inside the country known as U.K. because that’s what Wikipedia says. It goes further than that however because it’s really about marketing the English wine industry, NOT the U.K. wine industry. Nyetimber, Winbirri, Chapel Down are all English vineyards and recent winners in global wine awards, beating Champagne in the Decanter World Wine Awards, and with a female winemaker at Nyetimber becoming the first woman to win the global winemakers “Oscar”. But who knows about it, who knows we are now making world beating sparking wines rivalling Champagne or still wines rivalling Chablis? It gets worse:

When it comes to local wine, however, the regime of insane regulations begins to bite. An enterprising neighbour planted vines at nearby Noah’s Ark, where he made a crisp dry white from Riesling, Scheurebe and similar varietals. He worked seriously and scientifically and named his product ‘Cloud Nine’, in honour of the crows, ninth pair of creatures to enter Noah’s Ark, who chattered contentedly in the clouds around the mast. And he proudly put his product on sale as ‘English Table Wine’. A European Directive told him to pour the stuff down the drain or risk prosecution. The offending word was not ‘table’ or ‘wine’ but ‘English’..” (I Drink Therefore I Am, p30, Roger Scruton)

English wine is starting to sweep the board for quality in sparkling wines and for sustainability across all of our vineyards. The French are falling over themselves to buy up our land in the chalk downs of Sussex and Kent. The champagne region is panicking over climate change because their harvest is falling and know that their prices must reduce. Well done to the entrepreneurs who saw this opportunity 20 years ago and have been hampered by ridiculous EU bureaucracy and global brand sales in supermarkets yet laboured on to well deserved successes. So support them, buy some English wine seeking out Nyetimber, Chapel Down and Winbirri. There’s loads of them, but they’re buried under the weight of supermarket shelves groaning with overpriced champagne and cheap acidic prosecco getting a free ride. Take a look at the photo below I took in an English supermarket over the weekend, our own award winning wines “buried” in the Rest of Europe section. I guarantee you won’t find that in any other country where they don’t proudly market and champion their own wines!

More tales and experiences such as this in “It’s Not About The Wine” released on November 30th.

Categories: England, Wine

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