‘Tempt you with a glass of Sussex?’ English bubbly wins protected name status

Sussex sparkling wines have cemented protected name status, putting themselves up there with champagne, Cornish clotted cream... and of course Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Sussex sparkling wine has been granted protected regional status by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) following a lengthy campaign.

Once something of a joke, the stellar trajectory of the reputation of English sparkling wine has seen it widely accepted in some of the smartest establishments across both Britain and Europe. And Sussex vineyards, which produce around a quarter of all English wine, have been at the vanguard. Earlier this year, The Times’s wine critic Jane McQuitty described East Sussex producer Tillington’s 2010 vintage as “a magnificent bubbly” adding that it is, “every bit as good as a French prestige champagne.”

This latest feather in its cap from DEFRA means that only producers based in Sussex, and who meet a set of agreed guidelines, will be able to sell their fizz with the Sussex label.

However, while winemakers in Sussex will be popping corks at the news, many in Kent, Surrey and Hampshire are less than impressed. Several had been pushing for a designation which covered the whole region. Now, it seems more likely that they will have to apply for their own similar protected status.

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DEFRA’s official decision, which has been in the pipeline for some time, means that the granting of EU-wide ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status (as enjoyed by regions such as Champagne and La Rioja) is now a formality of paperwork. Melton Mowbray pork pies, Jersey Royal potatoes, Cornish pasties and Stilton, strict rules on geography and ingredients are imposed on those wishing to use the name.

Whether that status will still be respected after Brexit negotiations are completed is another matter, however. As of course is the question of how many (if any) non-Sussex wineries have been labelling their goods as Sussex-based in the first place.

‘You romanticise a little bit… it’s part of the packaging’

Those concerns aren’t really the point, of course, since PDO status is as much a matter of marketing as anything else. But the power of such things shouldn’t be underestimated, as Antony Foster, chair of the UK Vineyards Association, explained when speaking to thedrinksbusiness.com earlier this year:

“Wine is not just simply something that you quaff: you look at the label, you talk about it and you romanticise a little bit about it. This is part of the packaging. And if you can say as much as you can about a wine, somehow it gets better and better when come to drink it. And this is what the Sussex thing is going to do.”

The bubbly’s image certainly seems to be on the mind of Mark Driver. He is the owner of East Sussex’s Rathfinny estate, and has been one of the loudest voices fighting Sussex’s cause. He told The Times that, “We believe this will help Sussex become synonymous with high quality sparkling wine.

“So when you go into a bar in London or Tokyo you will be asked: ‘Would you like a glass of champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex?'”