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English Wine Country Takes a Frosty Turn

Generally speaking, the English have a reputation for being polite to a fault, but things are getting a little less civilized in English wine country these days. The issue? Frost. Cold snaps are covering vines there with a dusting of the chilly stuff and it’s killing those vines by the thousands. Last week brought the coldest frost in two decades and winemakers are understandably on edge, but it’s not just the weather that’s wreaking havoc. One winemaker is said to have uttered whether it was “mad to try to grow vines in England” and his or her colleagues are reacting with predictable ire.

According to an article in The Times:

That response has irritated other people in the business who stress that Bordeaux also suffered extensive frost damage. They fear that public pessimism is harmful to a young industry with a growing reputation for making quality fizz and which needs investment if it is to hit its target of doubling production to ten million bottles by 2020.

Basically, English winemakers are a little more than taken aback that one of their own would disparage an industry that struggles for recognition as it is. When hail strikes in Burgundy, the wine world commiserates and mumbles platitudes about poor fortunes and bouncing back next year even as Pinot-philes mourn the tricky vintage; when the frigid blight hits England, the prevailing mood seems to be more along the lines of “Well, it’s England – what do you expect?” Is it fair? Not likely, and for winemakers whose livelihoods are often held hostage by the whims of Mother Nature, it’s understandably a touchy subject.

Denbies, in Surrey, which produces 500,000 bottles per year, told the BBC that 75 per cent of buds had been affected and the frost had been “catastrophic” and “a blow”. Another big producer, Chapel Down, in Kent, was irked by those remarks and argued that the impact of the frost had been “patchy”. It has vines on different locations, some of which remained free of frost.

While the frost has undoubtedly impacted vineyards across England, the extent of the impact seems to be up for debate. Some wineries are predicting 40% less yield – a major hit to their bottom lines – while others, like Chapel Down above, may not be feeling the heat (so to speak) to the same degree.

Bob Lindo of Cornwall’s award-winning Camel Valley vineyard has an optimistic take on the situation and how it affects English sparkling wine, which is the heart of the country’s wine industry:

“It can feel like a bereavement but it’s agriculture and it happens,” said Mr Lindo. “There have been four good years in a row and we plan on a cycle of one good, one terrible and two average. Sparkling wine takes between two and four years to make, so if winemakers factored in the prospect, then stocks should be reasonable.”

For more information on the frost and titillating insight into Champagne Taittinger’s sparkling new English adventure, head over to The Times.




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