Climate Change Helps Raise the Profile of English Sparkling Wines

Environmental science and centuries-old craft converge in odd ways

English vineyards at Nyetimber
The vineyard at Nyetimber, in West Sussex, England.

Pop quiz: When you see the phrase “sparkling wine,” what’s the first country that comes to mind? Odds are the answer is France, and for good reason — stemming from both the quality of the wine made there, and for cultural and legal reasons. There are great effervescent wines to be had from other nations as well — Italy comes to mind, as does the United States — but now, there’s a new power on the scene.

History might well be repeating itself in a less combative way: England has begun to establish itself as a major player in the world of sparkling wines, writes Smithsonian magazine.

There are a few reasons for this. Some can be chalked up to the skill and craft of English winegrowers and winemakers, to be sure. But another major factor in this potential shift in power is due to climate change, which has made the English countryside a better place to produce wine.

At Smithsonian, Jillian Kramer explores the science behind this shift in power. “While the United Kingdom’s chalky soil is all-but identical to the soil in the Champagne region, its climate — until very recently — simply couldn’t compete,” she writes.

This led to a watershed moment in 2016, when English sparkling wine placed ahead of Champagne in multiple categories of a blind tasting. Some of the lauded wines from that tasting came from Nyetimber, where wine has been grown since 1988.

“The U.K.’s cold, wet conditions have turned ever-so-warmer, giving English wines an edge,” Kramer writes. “Some winemakers have become climate scientists in their own right, adapting to and experimenting in new and changing weather patterns.”

It’s a logical step both in terms of the science of winemaking and the effects of climate change. Though it also raises the question of whether some future generations will sip acclaimed sparkling wines grown in Iceland and Greenland — a dizzying prospect, to be sure.

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