English sparkling wine makers face 'pivotal year' amid Christmas champagne shortage

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English sparkling wine makers face 'pivotal year' amid Christmas champagne shortage
© Provided by The Telegraph French champagne shortage heralds bumper year for English sparking wine

For many people a festive glass of champagne has become as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce.

But supply issues of the French favourite are threatening to leave festivities rather flat this year.

Supermarkets, off-licences, hotels and restaurants have all reported problems getting hold of enough stock to meet the expected demand.

But while champagne might be off the menu for many, suppliers of English sparkling wine are promising a bumper year.

With wines from the 2018 vintage – known as the “harvest of the decade” – coming on stream this Christmas, domestic suppliers believe this could be a “pivotal moment” for the fledgling English wine industry.

Champagne imports have been hit by a combination of factors including recent poor harvests, higher overseas demand, a shortage of hauliers and issues around Brexit.

Calls for urgent action to avoid empty shelves

The problems have led the Wine and Spirit Trade Association to write to the government calling for “urgent action” to avoid empty supermarket shelves and hospitality menus.

Signed by 48 members of the industry body including champagne makers Moet & Chandon, owned by LVMH, and Laurent Perrier, the letter said: “This is an urgent issue for our businesses, and it is imperative that the Government takes immediate steps to help mitigate the impact of the driver shortages crisis before the Christmas period.”

But English sparkling wine producers have said they are well prepared to step in and meet the demand for fizz, with one of the best ever vintages now available.

English wine has seen explosive growth in the last few years, with 70 per cent year on year growth of bottles produced and vines under growth quadrupling since 2000.

But it still remains a tiny player in the world wine market especially compared with more established producers in France, Italy, Spain and the New World.

Mark Driver, co-founder of one of Britain’s biggest vineyards, Rathfinny, said he hoped the shortages from the continent this Christmas would provide a “pivotal moment” for home grown industry.

‘Blistering summer’ behind England’s ‘fantastic’ 2018 vintage

“This is a great opportunity for English wines to show the wider public that they can more than compete with their more illustrious and more established foreign competitors,” he said.

English sparkling wines have won considerable praise in recent years and are becoming their own category on wine lists in top restaurants, bars and hotels across the UK, as a home grown alternative to French and Italian sparkling wines.

“But because we are local and produce on a much smaller scale than our bigger competitors, it has been hard to compete with their discounting, large volumes and promotional support that usually surrounds Christmas, but this year feels different, it feels like a much more level playing field.

“The joy is that many of the English sparkling wines currently on the market are from the amazing 2018 vintage of the decade, which not only saw large volumes but also fantastic quality.

“These wines really benefited from a blistering summer, and glorious early autumn sunshine, producing grapes with great flavours and the perfect balance of sugars and acidity for premium sparkling wine.

“We hope the shortage of champagne means that people will celebrate with a delicious Sussex sparkling wine instead.”

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