I have found Vineyards of England and Wales: Sparkling Wine by Stewart Wilde to be an interesting but somewhat enigmatic book. The author is an architect who left his initial profession to follow his passion into the wine trade. Good for him! I wasn’t clear on what his role in the wine trade is. It is clear that he has made lots of good friends in vineyards around the country. This appears to have been the catalyst which brought this book to life.
In that regard, this book is a great snapshot into the current position of the English wine industry. After a short introduction and quick guide to the grape varieties found in English sparkling wine, the bulk of the text is dedicated to a catalogue of 50 sparkling producers. It in no way claims to be comprehensive – there are indeed well over 500 English vineyards now, and most of them produce at least one sparkling wine. However all of the ‘big boys’ are in there, except surprisingly Nyetimber, who are arguably the best known of them all.
Rather than being a book about sparkling wine, I would argue it is a book about sparkling wine makers – which personally a find delightful. The catalogue of vineyards includes some technical information about size, production and some very short notes (no more than 10 words in most cases) about recent wines, but the bulk of the listing is given over to a potted history of each winemaker and their story. I found this an extremely touching and interesting insight into the hardworking vintners around the country.
But this is where my confusion comes in. I don’t know if it’s because I’m already so immersed in the English Wine world that these stories appeal to me. If that’s true, then does this book have a more general audience? If you’re interested to find out more about English sparkling wine, this book isn’t going to help. The listings don’t even give an indication of quality. It’s great to have all vineyards, small and large, on a level playing field. But we all know that some of these wines will be unmissable while others are best missed…
English Sparkling Wine
And of course I have some qualms about the organisation of the book. Naturally the regions give prominence to the South. Perhaps the bias does not give a fair impression of the true picture of winemaking in the UK now. First you read about the South West, South Central, South East and East Anglia. Then as a seeming afterthought is the West Midlands and Wales, followed by the North, with just 11 entries in total. Of course I will always bemoan the omission of the award-winning Rothley Wine Estate. Their sparkling wine does well at the International Wine Challenge and I’ve volunteered there for nearly 4 years. But slightly more objectively, putting the vineyards of Shropshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire in the ‘North’ category is just plain bizarre.
I think I’d just prefer alphebetized counties and have done with it. It feels rather ‘The Proud Southern Sparkling Wine Producers’ followed by the ‘Grim Oop North’ token entries at the end of the book. It is time that the barriers for winemakers outside of the most southerly counties were removed. So I would say that.
All in, I think that this little book would probably be best served thrown in the glovebox when you head off on your next tour of the UK. The visiting information about the vineyards is handy. I hope it would encourage you to stop off and explore some of these wonderful places for yourself. And anything which helps to raise the profile of English wine is OK in my book!
Thank you for ACC Art Books for the review copy of the book. The book will be available from ACC Art Books as well as usual retailers with an RRP of £12.95. The release date is 20/05/19.