A drop in Champagne production has led to UK drinkers looking for new sparkling wines, and production of English sparkling is growing.
There are currently 190 winemakers making sparkling wine in the UK, and Nyetimber is a significant part of the industry, making up 10 per cent of all English sparkling wine production. Nyetimber’s Head of International Sales, Karl Thogersen, sees the label as a trailblazer for the category.
“We’ve been the first in so many different ways. [We were the] first to start off this category of English sparkling wine using all of the three grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – exclusively to produce English sparkling wine traditional method. Also, a lot of the vintage styles are styles that we introduced to the market for the first time,” Thogersen said.
The first vines were planted at Nyetimber in 1988 by American couple Stuart and Sandy Moss, with the first vintage released in 1992 and the first Blanc de Blancs in 1996. Located in the south east of the UK, the soil of the Nyetimber vineyards is remarkably similar to the soil in Champagne.
“[Stuart and Sandy Moss] learned early that the terroir in that part of the UK was actually the same as in France and more specifically in Champagne. A lot of green sand and chalk, which gave them the opportunity to explore that kind of winemaking. They took a risk on planting the first wines, but it came out much better than they expected,” said Thogersen.
Thogersen explained that the primary reaction to the quality of Nyetimber’s wine was one of shock.
“We were awarded early for our wines. In 1998, we won our first international award, and a lot of people were very shocked and surprised over the fact that you can produce high quality sparkling wine in the UK,” he said.
The label is now owned by Eric Hereema, who purchased the estate in 2006, with Head Winemaker Cherie Spriggs and Senior Winemaker Brad Greatrix joining the team in 2007. In 2018, Spriggs was named the International Wine Challenge’s Sparkling Winemaker of the Year, and is to date the only woman and only winemaker from outside of Champagne to win the title.
“What is important Nyetimber is that we strive to rival the best in the world. Many would say that that is Champagne. For us, it’s about quality, perfection and making sure that we’re delivering the best product in the market,” said Thogersen.
Nyetimber proved its ability to rival Champagne houses in a 2016 competition held in Paris by British wine expert Matthew Jukes and the UK Wine and Spirits Trade Association. Judges were asked to blind taste English sparkling wine against Champagne, and Nyetimber’s 2009 Blanc de Blancs went head to head with Billecart-Salmon’s Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. Out of the 14 judges, 13 thought that the Nyetimber wine was from Champagne, and 11 said that it was the better wine of the two.
As well as the Blanc de Blancs, Nyetimber also produces the Classic Cuvée, Sparkling Rosé, a single vineyard release and the 1086 prestige cuvée. Each bottle has a code which can be inputted into the Nyetimber website to reveal the vintages used in non-vintage statement wines, varietal makeup, and bottling, riddling, and disgorgement dates.
“Bottling, riddling, and disgorgement dates are obviously a little bit of a geeky thing to know, but sometimes it can actually be quite valuable. We added riddling, as we took inspiration from Krug who do the same thing on their bottles. However, they don’t reveal the riddling dates, so we added that just to do something a little bit better,” Thogersen joked.
Thogersen is enthusiastic about the quality of this year’s vintage, with 20 per cent more fruit produced compared to last year.
“We had a very good expansion in our grapes and that obviously shows off really well both in volume as well as in quality. 2018 so far has been the best vintage in the UK. They do think that this year will be better. Fingers crossed.” Thogersen said.
Nyetimber is distributed in Australia by Déjà vu Wine Co.