Wine marque to identify the best English producers

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The Independent Online

English wine came of age yesterday when the industry announced a scheme to identify the nation's best bottles and vineyards.

English wine came of age yesterday when the industry announced a scheme to identify the nation's best bottles and vineyards.

Under the initiative, wines will be classified as "quality" or "regional" on the bottles themselves, and also on winery brochures and vineyard signs. The classifications will be awarded by the industry to producers whose wines have undergone a tough selection process and who actively promote English wines.

The English Wine Marque has been set up by the marketing association English Wine Producers and the UK Vineyards Association, with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It gives a much-needed boost to English wines.

What started out as a cottage industry a few decades ago has now grown to include 870 hectares of vineyards (25 in Wales), with 108 wineries, ranging from big commercial operations to small home-based concerns. Between them they produce an average of 1.7 million bottles of wine annually.

Despite England's variable weather, the country's 382 vineyards have been able to capitalise on earlier-ripening, white Germanic grapes such as the widely planted Müller-Thurgau and the increasingly popular Bacchus, as well as the Swiss hybrid Seyval Blanc. These varieties are more resistant to frosts and humidity and tend to produce consistent crop levels from one year to the next.

The English climate makes it difficult to grow the classic French varieties. However, some growers, such as Ridgeview and Nyetimber, England's leading producers of sparkling wine, have shown that, with the benefit of chalky soils, fine sparkling wines can be produced from the classic Champagne grape varieties Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The title of English Wine of the Year was awarded to Ridge-view's Cuvée Merret Bloomsbury 1996 this year, with another champagne-style fizz, Valley Vineyard's Ascot Brut, winning a silver medal.

The new "quality" standard is England's answer to France's appellation contrÿlée legislation, with strict regulations controlling yields, grape varieties, analysis and tasting. The "regional" scheme covers hybrid grapes such as Seyval Blanc, Triomphe and Rondo. Any wine that doesn't conform to either category will be labelled simply as "Table Wine".

English Wine Producers has also launched a website,www.englishwineproducers. com, giving details of where to find English vineyards and how to buy their products.

Addressing wine producers yesterday, the Agriculture minister Joyce Quin stressed the importance of the new marque in focusing attention on the high quality of English wines and in raising the profile of the domestic industry among the wine-consuming public.

"The marque is a recognition of the confidence your once fledgling industry now has in itself," she said.

And just what is the difference between English and so-called British wine? British wine is made from imported grape concentrate, while English wine is the pukka stuff, made from grapes freshly grown on English soil.