British wine row bubbles over as Sussex vintage given Champagne-style status

Chapel Down: Discover more about UK’s wine producer

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Winemakers in Sussex have been awarded a special status that puts their products in the leagues of wines produced in the most famous regions of the world, including Champagne, Rioja and Tuscany. The special status granted by the government gives the county’s wine producers their own official designation, which is intended to guarantee their quality and geographical provenance.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has approved the registration of “Sussex” as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for wine.

The status is similar to the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) and Italian Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) which are granted to the leading winegrowing regions in each country.

However, while Sussex winegrowers are toasting their success, the decision has met a backlash from other wine-producing counties.

Rivals from neighbouring Kent have dismissed the PDO as a “joke” and dubbed it a marketing exercise which says little about the geographical features which produce a particular tasting wine.

Graham Barbour, the founder and owner of Woodchurch Wine Estate in Ashford on the Kent-Sussex border, told The Telegraph: “This is just a marketing exercise based on the political boundaries of a county.

“It tells you nothing about the geographical features of a particular vineyard or the quality of the wine.

“Some Kent vineyards share the same geographical features as parts of Sussex so it’s meaningless to lump everything together under one arbitrary county designation.”

Mr Barbour said many of his fellow wine producers in Kent did not wish to gain a PDO for their county based on administrative political boundaries rather than “terroir” or geography.

He said: “The whole idea of a Sussex PDO is a joke, but perhaps I would say that.”

Despite the furore from its rivals, Sussex winemakers have welcomed the move.

Mark Driver, co-founder of the Rathfinny Wine Estate, said: “We believe that the name Sussex will become synonymous with high quality sparkling and still wine, so when you go into a bar in London, New York, Beijing, or Tokyo you will be asked ‘Would you like a glass of Champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex?”

Mr Driver added: “We believe that Sussex will become a quality marque, reflecting what winemakers call terroir; the soils, influenced by the South Downs, the climate and people who make Sussex wines.”

In line with the PDO, wines labelled as “Sussex” will reportedly have to pass a stringent analytical test and qualitative analysis by an independent tasting panel.

In the case of Sussexes specifically, this will mean the wine must have been aged in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months before release.

WInes will also be assessed for their clarity, aroma, taste and the characteristics of their bubbles.

The PDO will also limit the grape varieties that can be used to make “Sussex” wines, with hand harvesting and restricted yields designed to ensure the highest quality grapes are used, along with longer bottle ageing for Sussex sparkling wine.

The area of planted vineyards in the UK has quadrupled since 2000, now standing at more than 8,750 acres (3,500 hectares).

Sussex is the largest wine producer of all UK wine counties, responsible for more than a quarter of all the wine produced.

Miles Beale, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “Not only does the PDO recognise the particular growing conditions found in Sussex, but it also shows the commitment of winemakers in this region to produce high quality still and sparkling wines under strict production criteria.

“The PDO scheme will enhance English wine’s established reputation as a high-quality product to rival the best and boost its vast export potential.”

Sussex wine is only the second product to be granted protection under the new UK GI scheme, after Gower Peninsula saltmarsh lamb.

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