If you ever thought it was impossible for England to produce sparkling wine that is a match for French champagne then you will be very surprised to know that you are wrong.
Digby Fine English is producing world-class fizz with grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the chalky soil of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. And one of the sparkling whites, Digby’s flagship, 2010 Vintage Brut (RRP £40) recently came top in a prestigious blind tasting against French rivals, beating none other than Krug Grande Cuvée NV (RRP £140), 2009 Dom Pérignon (RRP £115) and NV Gosset (RRP £50).
The brand is named after a 17th Century philosopher, theologian, writer, pirate, inventor and ‘father of the modern wine bottle’, Sir Kenelm Digby, whose image adorns the company’s tastings rooms (pictured below) in Arundel, Sussex.
Digby has a unique business model in the English wine business. It operates as a négociant – a merchant, in France, that buys in grapes from several small vineyards and then turns them into wine. In the case of Digby this allows them to buy the best British grapes, creating a superior product. There are about 500 vineyards in England producing enough fruit for about 5m bottles of wine, two thirds of which is sparkling.
Trevor Clough. a former management consultant and Jason Humphries, an engineer, are the brains behind Digby Fine English.
Trevor explains that part of the reason why England can produce such great sparkling wines is that the “terroir” – the chalky soil in some parts of the country is very similar to that in the Champagne region.
Trevor who leads the blending process with head winemaker Dermot Sugrue adds: “However, there are some subtle differences that help to give English fizz some distinction. It’s roughly one degree cooler here, which brings some freshness and zip to our wine.”
When it’s ready, the fruit arrives at the Wiston Estate Winery, in West Sussex, where Dermot handles the pressing, bottling, cellar ageing, disgorging and labelling
Last year, Digby, became the fastest-selling English sparkling wine in the US, where it’s listed at the three-star Michelin restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago, among other award-winning eateries.
The success of Digby, whose first vintage was bottled in 2009 and launched for sale in 2013, has a lot to do with the pair’s marketing concept.
Trevor explains:”English sparkling wines had the quality of product but the brand, presentation and marketing was not quite there: they looked like champagne copies, rather than representing any kind of Englishness.”
So with some refinement, charm and a touch of British humour the concept of Digby is to set their brand apart. A new development has been the opening of their shop and tasting room in Arundel.
Can’t think of a more perfect day than travelling by train to the beautiful town of Arundel to sample fizz paired with food.