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Affordable tiers of English still wines ‘crucial’, says Oz Clarke

Published:  29 June, 2020

Affordable tiers of still whites and red blends will be essential in supporting the rise of English sparkling wines both at home and on export markets.

This was one of the key messages delivered by Oz Clarke during a highly engaging webinar entitled ‘Stop the Sniggering!’, delivered at the height of English Wine Week on Friday (26 June).

With the volumes of fruit fast rising as new vineyard plantings continue apace, Clarke, who has just published a book, English Wines: From Still to Sparkling, said that it was “crucial” to get “really good bottles of still wine in front of people for the same price as, say, New Zealand”.

“We need to build [sales of] two, three, four million extra bottles as fast as possible, and that’s not going to be easy,” said Clarke.

He added that supermarkets and merchants like The Wine Society should do all they can to support the larger wineries with commercial quantities of wine, “to push through this idea that we can make really nice still wines at an affordable price”.

This, in turn, would help support both domestic consumption of the UK’s “fantastic” sparkling wines, and their exports to “the great markets” such as the US, where English sparkling wines will need to grow sales to meet burgeoning production.

“We need to be exporting to America and if you can go somewhere like that and say, ‘here we are… let me tell you about all the fantastic sparkling wines, that's absolutely great, then you need to be ready with your next tier of where you are going, what's going to be the next new and exciting story,” said Clarke.

He cited the entry level whites and red blends from estates such as Denbies, Chapel Down and Halfpenny Green as the way forward.

Such wines would also provide the first rungs on the ladder to what Clarke and others, including co-host Sarah Abbott MW, predicted would be a tier of world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to rival the quality of Chablis and red Burgundy.

The UK should also “up its game” with rosé Pinot Noir, Clarke added.

On the debate over pushing PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) for English wines, typically along county lines, Clarke said: “England is the newest of the New World, [and] New World is a state of mind, not a geographical place”, suggesting that it was too early to focus on the emerging differences between regional wines.

“Anybody is welcome to try and do something which will work - we're not going to make laws and rules which are trying to force you in one direction or another direction. Come on in, contribute and get some feedback,” said Clarke.

“And remember the customer, because one of the great things about the New World is that the customer is terribly important, Europe has learned the lesson, but not for a long time.”