PDO for Sussex Sparkling Wine (and Kent’s sour grapes)

Sussex Sparkling Wine has been granted official Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which is the equivalent of Appellation Controlee in France or DOC in Italy.

A PDO, once granted, identifies products that are produced, processed and prepared in a specific geographical area, using the recognised expertise of local producers and ingredients from the region concerned.

Wines can only be called ‘Sussex’ if they are grown in the region and meet a strict set of conditions.

Sussex sparkling wine must be made in the traditional method, predominantly from classic sparkling wine grape varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier – grown within the region. Arbanne, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Pinot Noir Précoce may also be used.

It must have a minimum abv of 11%, a minimum of 6 grams per litre expressed as tartaric acid, a maximum of 0.5 grams per litre expressed as acetic acid and a maximum of 150mg per litre of sulphur dioxide.

Each cuvée must be approved by an accredited organisation – Wine Standards, which is part of the UK government’s Food Standards Agency.

At least 85% of the grapes used to make Sussex sparkling wine must be of the nominated year of any vintage, while single variety wines are required to contain at least 90% of the stated variety.

Sussex PDO sparkling wines must have been aged in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months before release, with the wines assessed for their clarity, aroma, taste and the characteristics of their bubbles.

Sadly, some Kent producers have reacted by “throwing their toys out of the pram”.

Graham Barbour, the owner of Woodchurch Wine Estate in Ashford is reported to have said: “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”.  This is nonsense as the quality is assessed by an independent panel and Sussex wines are grown on a combination of Greensand and the same band of chalk that runs under the Channel and surfaces in the Champagne area.

Philip Watts of Barnsole Vineyard is quoted in The Times as saying “Sussex is not a place” which is surprising to those of us who live there, especially as it was one of the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England from the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the 5th century until the 8th century, so it has been a “place” for quite a while.  He also said “you can’t say its better than a place 100 yards over the border … it should be site specific”.  Well there is nothing to stop Kent wines applying for their own PDO if they think they’re good enough.  As for the “100 yards” comment, maybe he needs to look around the world – there are plenty of examples where one PDO is right next to another one, such as around Saint Emilion, boundaries have to be drawn somewhere. The “site specific” comment is also misplaced – designated wine regions such as Mendoza or Rioja incorporate different styles and geographical features.

Interestingly both Woodchurch and Barnsole appear on the website “Kent Vineyards”, promoting “Vines and Wines in the Garden of England”; surely a strange thing for them to identify with if they don’t believe that political boundaries tell you anything!

In the future Sussex may well develop sub-appellations along the French model or like in Napa Valley – something like “Ditchling-Villages” possibly; however the process of designating quality areas has to start somewhere and it’s great that it has started in Sussex by the Sea.