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Kingscote taking a leaf out of Champagne's book for first fizz

Published:  20 May, 2016

A Sussex winery is gearing up to launch its first sparkling wine - drawing heavily from France's most famous sparkling wine region.

Small-scale English vineyard Kingscote Estate has been experimenting with Pinot Meunier, Bacchus and other varieties since the first vines were planted in 2010.

But for its first bubbles, the winery was inspired by the vineyards of Champagne to make its first sparkling wine a non-vintage blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay.

The winemaking strategy borrows heavily from that most famous of French regions - and according to Owen Elias, Kingscote's executive winemaker and viticulturist, this is something that English vineyards are catching onto.

"Until now, the English have been doing vintages because sparkling has been so successful, so they want to get each vintage out in the market," he said.

"To produce a non-vintage you have to have wine in reserve. This allows you to even out the taste, but it takes longer."

Elias, who was previously a winemaker at Chapel Down for over two decades, also believes Kingscote is ahead of the curve in the English sparkling scene by incorporating Pinot Meunier.

"English wineries are catching on to Pinot Meunier," he added. "It's a great grape for us in the UK because it is frost resistant. I think we're going to see the proportion of Pinot Meunier rise in the UK over the next few years."

The estate blend was bottled last year and will be ready to be released this summer.

As yet unnamed, the wine will be in memorium for the winery's founder Christen Monge who tragically passed away suddenly last year at the age of 61.

Monge's vision was to build a winery that built on local links to create a tourism destination around the vineyard and its buildings.

As East Grinstead's only vineyard, the six-hectare estate has drawn heavily on its local connection, enticing visitors with vineyard tours, a wedding venue and picturesque walking route.

And it is this identity, says Elias, which will be the key for a winery like Kingscote to find its place among the big dogs in the sparkling category.

"From the beginning, Chris had the idea to make Kingscote a tourism destination and get people out here," Elias said.

"Even in the past two years I've seen tourism take off in the industry in a big way. It's a great way to introduce people to the wines. They see the label in their local wine shop and they say 'that's just down the road'."

Elias has seen the category explode over the course of his career, which includes making wine for Chapel Down, British Airways, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Waitrose.

"When I started at Chapel Down, they were struggling to sell their sparkling wines for £5. It's changed so much. Now, it's a crowded market place but it's a strong, well-respected industry to come into."