The Guardian: Champagne Giants Eye up England as Sparkling Wines Win Praise Worldwide

From The Guardian:

Mike Roberts should be a happy man. His Ridgeview vineyard nestling at the foot of the South Downs is producing award-winning sparkling wines that regularly best the finest champagnes in international competitions. Business is booming. A new £330,000 degorging plant – which turns the fermenting grape juice into champagne-style sparkling wine – stands proudly in a cavernous warehouse surrounded by rows of 17-year-old chardonnay vines now coming into bud. And yet.

"I'm a worrier, I'm always worrying," says Roberts, who sank the fortune he made in computers into Sussex's flinty soils where his endeavours have been rewarded with contracts to supply the likes of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose.

His most immediate worry is the weather. An early warm spell brought his vines on, only for recent frosts to cause him sleepless nights. A cold snap would harm the putative buds on the vines and spell disaster. Scores of paraffin candles now stand sentry-like next to the vines, ready to be ignited if the mercury drops too low in the small hours.

A poor harvest would also feed Roberts's more profound concern: can his 110 acres of vines yield enough fruit to meet the enormous demand for his wines? Despite producing around 240,000 bottles of wine a year – 10 times what was produced in 1997 when he was starting out – Roberts and the various members of his family who run Ridgeview are having to ration their product.

"We've grown from what was a comfortable little business to a serious business," he says. "Now the problem we have is that demand is so high we struggle to allocate fairly so that we can keep people happy."

The East Sussex vineyard is not alone in struggling to meet demand. Ridgeview's local rival Nyetimber, Cornwall's Camel Valley, Surrey's Denbies, the largest vineyard in the country, and Kent's Chapel Down are all producing award-winning sparkling wines that have oenophiles reaching for superlatives and buyers for their chequebooks.

"There are a lot of producers who are just doing sparkling wines," said Guy Tresnan, sales and marketing director at Chapel Down. "Six years ago, 70% of our wines were still wine and 30% was sparkling. Now it's 50-50."


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