So far, 2018 is proving an excellent year for English wine – and we’re not talking about the harvest just yet. Amid vintage launches and product releases from a number of English wineries comes the news that Chapel Down increased wine sales by 20% to over £8m last year, marking the seventh year in a row it has achieved such growth.
While the winery is thrilled with the growth and results, when it comes to the on-trade, its strategy is very much quality over quantity – eschewing mass listings in-favour of selected by the glass offerings.
‘We’re increasingly being seen in lots of on-trade accounts, but the real growth opportunity has been by the glass,’ said Frazer Thompson, Chapel Down’s CEO.
'There’s no point being listed by bars and restaurants and then being left to sit on a dusty shelf. Places might simply list English wine to show they’re supporting British products, but that doesn't mean it'll sell well.
'We want to be in the on-trade where staff get that consumers want to try new things and react to that enthusiasm and excitement on the other side of the bar.’
In line with this, pub chain Fuller’s scrapped its house champagne in favour of home-grown fizz – a risky move that proved hugely successful. So successful in fact that by making the switch in 2017, Fuller’s sparkling wine sales are up 50% and English sparkling are up five-fold on the previous year.
The spike in consumption, at least for Chapel Down, isn’t just coming from patriotic Brits though, as 2017 was the first full year the English wine was being sold to drinkers in the United States – who knocked back 10,000 bottles of Chapel Down.
Thanks to the growth across the category there is a huge drive for more acreage. In fact, Chapel Down say it is confident in its plans to double the acreage of vineyards supplying it to over 1,000 acres in the next three to four years. It estimates that Chapel Down represents over half of the growth in English sparkling wine in the off-trade.
Such a large chunk in the market is making Chapel Down a recognisable brand name to call across the bar – something English sparkling wine may start to have in common with the recognisable names of champagne maisons.
‘Most people could not name a single brand of prosecco,’ said Thompson. ‘Champagne is a luxury brand, and more spirits and increasingly beer are starting to demand brand names as well. Wine is out of kilter with everything else – but we are seeing the importance of brands start to grow.
'There’s just a lot of confusion as people recognise PDOs and appellations ahead of individual producers or grapes, which are almost acting as brands, so wine is a confused brand environment. But I think it’s great in this tiny market that we already have at least two brands that people are able to call at the bar.’
As the market continues to grow Thompson is confident that the champenoise should be tasting and worrying about English sparkling wines.
‘How good do you feel about drinking and supporting local products that are the best in the world?' he asked. ‘That’s something to talk about.’