A name for English sparkling wine – the Britagne debate

coates and seely britagne

There has recently been some debate about whether or not English sparkling wine needs a name, prompted by the release of Coates & Seely’s new fizz, for which they have coined the term Britagne. Here’s my take, delivered in nine points.

  1. It is an important time for English sparkling wine. New vineyards will soon be on stream, and production will be increased significantly. There is now a critical mass of top quality wines.
  2. Currently, the top producers sell out, and get a good margin for their product. Demand exceeds supply. But if production increases to the extent that they need to use new routes to market, they’ll either have to take a margin hit (supermarkets and independent wine shops take 30–45%) or raise prices.
  3. The category needs smart branding and marketing if it is to grow out of its current niche.
  4. For marketing reasons, it will be important to have a single name for the entire category, and for the industry to be 100% behind this.
  5. For this to happen, proud people will have to compromise and risk taking a personal hit for the good of all.
  6. In the absence of cooperation in marketing and branding the whole sector could suffer and even die. This sounds extreme, but if overproduction were to result in discounting, it could ruin things for everyone.
  7. Britagne is a good suggestion. Not perfect, but pretty good. Are there any better ones?
  8. If any name is used, it needs to be donated as a trademark to some central body—perhaps an executive made of a mix of industry people and smart outsiders.
  9. The industry should resist the temptation to be proscriptive. It would be a mistake to come up with a list of restrictive production criteria (such as permitted grape varieties, pressing conditions, ageing periods). As long as the wine is bottle-fermented English sparkling wine, it should be allowed to use the name.

34 comments to A name for English sparkling wine – the Britagne debate

  • Ben

    I don’t understand why they’ve chosen a ‘French’ word for an English wine / appellation. Surely that’s either a)subliminally suggesting that French wine is ‘better’ or b)re-inforcing the confusion between Champagne and ESW?

  • Mark Scott

    Sorry, I think “Britagne” is a terrible name – it’s all too obviously playing on “Champagne“, making it sound kind of French. It’s a “me too” name, of the kind that indicates a “me too” product, which typically won’t be as good or as authentic as the “original”.

    English sparkling wine is a classy product that deserves a better moniker. Surely an English wine should have an English sounding name? I quite like the way Ridgeview use “Merrett”, but they’ve trademaked that and probably wouldn’t want to see it genericised.

    I’m afraid more creative minds than mine need to ponder this one…

  • It utterly defeats the objective of highlighting the English quality of the wine by giving it a French name. Christopher Merret apparently documented the process by which sparkling wine can be made 30 years before Dom Perignon actually did it. It should be called Merret. If Ridgeview dont want to release the name for the greater good, it could be called “Fizz”.

  • Sam

    I understand why they use Merret but it’s not a word that conjures up the right images. Britagne sounds better but I agree with Mark that it sounds like knocked-off Champagne.

    It’s essential that the English wine industry thinks of a unique name and then pulls together to get behind it – and quickly. Hopefully there’s enough thinking hats to go around…

  • Good topical post, Jamie.

    Won’t customers have problems with pronouncing ‘Britagne’? It’s fine as part of the Coates and Seely brand but, in the wider context, wouldn’t it be better to have a word or expression that people are comfortable saying, and one that sounds English?

    I couldn’t see what’s wrong with ‘English Sparkling Wine’, even if it’s a little cumbersome.

    At least all the recent discussion won’t have done the growers any harm. Good luck to them all, whatever umbrella term they end up under.

  • I’m with Mark and Ben on Britagne. Sounds like one of those dodgy cheap fizzy bottles you are given in a nightclub on your hen night by the stripagram. It seems to me that the collective marketing of English sparkling wine has not kept up with the advances in quality. A good friend of mine is a consultant winemaker for some very good producers in Sussex, and tells of a reluctance to invest in long-term marketing or generic promotion. I’m not keen on Merret, and in any case I think that’s now trademarked. Is there an opportunity for some profile raising here – a competition sponsored by English Wine Producers to come up with the name, with a fantastic tour/prize for the winner? I suspect this is the type of challenge which requires you to go away, drink a bottle each of Camel Valley, Nyetimber and several others, scrawl down your ideas in a drunken creative frenzy, and then see whether any of them still make sense once you’ve sobered up. Well, that’s my Friday night sorted. Anyone want to join me?

  • Richard

    Given the regrettable tendency of wine writers to describe sparkling wine as ‘fizz’ I propose ‘Britfizz’.

  • An interesting post- cheers. I agree with a number of the points, but have to join the chorus against ‘Britagne’. It’s non-phonetic, spelt like ‘Champagne’ but pronounced differently. The wine world has more than enough unpronounceable names for the consumer already.

    I’m also not sure about point 9. I’ve never had a particularly decent English fizz made from anything other than Champagne grapes. For me chardonnay and the two pinots would need to be involved for a term to have value.

  • Why you are SO wrong:

    1. No – you do not need a generic name for the product. What has Cava, Sekt, Cap Classique, Cremant ever done to help raise the prestige of the product and help sell a single bottle? Britagne is a rubbish name and no one else will use it.

    2. Even if you thought up a good name (unlikely), only a small percentage would use it and virtually no one would want to pay for it and/or contribute to marketing funds. Without promotion, a generic name would have zero impact.

    3. We cannot create a Champagne-style authority in the UK and in any event, despite all their rules and regulations, why is there so much RUBBISH Champagne on the market? Answer: Because any scheme that is so restrictive has to pamnder to the lowest common denominator.

    4. Have the terms Californian Sparkling Wine, New Zealand Sparkling Wine, Australian Sparkling Wine ever harmed (or for that matter, helped) sell a bottle of Schramsburg, Iron Horse, Lindauer, Pelorus, Green Point etc etc?

    5. What the UK wine industry needs are strong brands based upon well made wines of a quality that is commensurate with the price asked. Let growers decide which sector of the market they want to be in. Brands such as Balfour Brut, Breaky Bottom, Camel Valley, Chapel Down, Gusbourne, Nyetimber, Three Choir etc etc have paved the way and all are succesfully occupying niches within the Sparkling English wine market.

    6. FYI there are already several conditions laid down by the EU regs for sparkling wines which allow for different qualities. The recently introduced PDO for “Traditional Method Quality Sparkling Wine” further restricts winemakers. In my opinion, a little bit of stick will help growers improve their products.

    7. Once the Kings of France were crowned in Rheims, thus helping Champagne become prestigious. With the Duchess of Cornwall now the UKVA President, who knows where we are going?

  • Oh no! I posted without reading Richard’s comments about ‘fizz’ and now feel like a prat. Apologies. I would also like to see Sarah’s profile-raising competition.

  • Alex Lake

    Agreed that Britagne is awful. I believe it’s supposed to be pronounced “Britannia” – and having a name where you need to explain how to say it sounds crazy.

    How about combining “Merret” and “Britagne” and having “Meringue”?

    Or Albionade?

    Let’s call the whole thing off…

  • keith prothero

    Crappo would be a good name

  • One thing is for sure. Consensus will be hard to reach. Alex is right about the pronunciation of Britagne but I think Gavin is right about the spelling. Personally, I think ‘Britannia’ is a good name. It is traditional and evokes memories of when Britain was great. It is also an english spelling and easy to read.

  • Alex Lake

    Isn’t that french for toad?

  • Raffi Gabeyan

    Crappo LOL (thanks Keith). And yes it does mean ‘toad’ in French. And yes ‘Britagne’ does not sound great even to French ears. I say keep it simple and stick with English Sparkling Wine.

  • Sara

    Whatever will be the name I think they need to fix some criteria: grape varieties allowed, minimum ageing and so on.
    What’s the point to get a brand name to define something if you can’t guarantee a style? What would make people want to buy a product that can be anything with bubbles? That would be just too confusing for consumers.

  • Dieter

    My 2cents as a non-British consumer on the continent. I’m sufficiently impressed with the few examples I’ve tasted that I would actively look out for English fizz – IF it didn’t match Champagne prices. I think that since it’s a European (Old World?) product, a generic name would certainly be fitting. English Sparkling WIne sounds too New World and ‘sober’. Britagne comes too close to the pretentiousness of Cap Classique which sounds seriously knock-off.

  • JW

    Britagne is a good suggestion. Not perfect, but pretty good – I agree – it is a great name for a British Wine – a ine not to be associated with French Wine.

  • Simon T

    Stevo Skelton MW makes some good points – shame they were packaged in such an aggressive tone! Readers of this post are global but as someone who day in day out sells New World wines, i am genuinely excited by the emergence of English Bubbles. The Brits lay claim to building Bordeaux (well the subset of our population that were born into wealth and could sit idly consuming wine whilst their slaves dug, built and served them) so why cannot this generation sit up and be proud of something special that we have.

    Surely the differing terroir across southern England requires the utilisation of different varietals that to have a generic term would be improper. Sussex and Surrey seem to be the major leaders, with supporting roles being played by Kent, Cornwall and gloucs/Herefordshire. Critically, why would one of the pioneers want a degradation of the brand resultant from a millionaire with a ridiculous dream who is able to Market a wine as ( say) Britagne (disgusting by the way) that tastes like sour fizzy p!ss.

  • Most of it has already been said, but what the hey!

    Britagne…. no thanks, regardlesss of how it’s m,eant to be spoken it still looks like a play on that French reason.
    I liked Merret, but seems that is out of contention as well.

    It will be English, it will be sparking, is is made in a Traditional manner….
    Traditional English Sparkling?
    English Traditional Sparkling?

    But as others have pointed out, trying to genericise all English sparkling may not be the best way forward anyway.

  • Bord Byitall

    “One Off”, anyone? Why not, shows a cheeky sense of rumor.

    BB

  • Tom Hewson

    The re-emergence of great British beer is perhaps a better model to look to than the marketing of wines from long-established, heavily export-dependant viticultural areas. Modern, individual branding (Meantime, Brewdog etc), coupled with a bit of a sense of adventure in the on-trade and supermarkets has fuelled much of its success, and enabled it to steal some market share from bland continental lagers.
    I don’t really see how the ESW situation is very different – there’s a good story in the background ticking over, and it’s up to the individual vineyards to make their case in that context. It’s not Britagne (wince) or Merret (sounds like Ferret), there isn’t a Methode Anglaise (eugh)…they all smack of lack of confidence. Simplicity and elegance, away from Champagne-y wordiness, is surely a great way to go (Chapel Down caught on to this a couple of years ago, and new producers like Gusbourne are onto it too)

  • Simon T makes a useful point about terroir. See this map http://www.soton.ac.uk/~imw/jpg-Geological-Maps/8GB-Old-Map-British-Isles.jpg which shows where the preferred chalk soil lies (zone 14), which happily co-incides with the warmest and driest parts of the country. But often these are escarpemtns or ‘downs’with higher altitudes, which can be detrimental to heat summation.
    I see that despite all the comments about how ‘terrible’ Britagne is, no one has really nailed a useful, simple, generic name, which proves how hard this really is.

  • Charlie Matthews

    Britagne is too derivative and open to mispronunciation.
    What’s wrong with BritPop?

  • Just playing devils advocate

    The problem with English Sparkling Wine is that, although legally correct for wines made in Britain, it rather mislabels wine made in Wales.

    The problem with references to British wine is that there is already a legal definition of British wines – which are beverages I think few readers here drink.

    Jamie wants a name that has no restrictions other than bottle fermented. So that would include a British wine that was bottle fermented. There surely has to be some tighter restrictions on the use of the term for it to be of any worth.

    Stephen poo poos the idea and asks what Cava etc have done – well its given a simple identification to a category. When I am in South Africa and I see two sparkling wines I know the one with Cap Classique on the label has been bottle fermented and the one without hasn’t.

    Britagne — its not too bad.

    I think a name is needed, short and (eventually) aspirational. English Sparkling Wine is wine with bubbles, a superior category should be indentifiable.

  • Patrick

    Let’s start by admitting that words can change meaning over time. The word “xerox” became synonymous with “photocopy”, and “Levi’s” came to equal “blue jeans.” Likewise the word “champagne” is commonly used in English to designate sparkling wine, because English-speaking people started drinking it long before we ever made any. (Unlike Spain, Italy, Germany etc., where sparkling wines are also deeply established and thus they have their own names) It will take a long time for a vernacular English word to take root, so in the meantime, in colloquial usage, I always just say Champagne. It’s easy and it gets the point across.

  • Nick Oakley

    Simon – isn’t that custard in French? ;-)
    I like the idea of Britpop.

  • Nick – yep – you’d have to pronounce it carefully in a restaurant or you could be in for a shock!

    In all seriousness I don’t think English Sparkling Wine is a bad name. Only way I’d see it changing is if the idea of terroir develops in English wine and people start referring to a specific region more and more when they talk about the wine.

  • Some great comments there guys…. Receiving a vintage bottle of cold custard as an apero might be quite exciting!

    As for the name Britange, it’s a no from me. Too much of a play on words / comedy suggestion and I do think that British Fizz deserves better…

  • I agree with Stephen and Tom, wineries don’t need a regional brand, they should come up with their own and champion it.

    People forget the downside risk when wines are heavily marketed with their region… remember what happened with “Austrian Wine” years ago?

  • Julian

    Having just written my final undergraduate thesis on developments within the English wine industry I find this discussion very interesting. I believe that generic branding is ineffective in regards to English wine. Many key members of the industry I had the pleasure to interview believed the marketing body for the UK, English Wine Producers, had little or no effect at all! The leading brands (Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down etc) cannot keep up with demand. Their products sell very well, as does Balfour Brut (a smaller yet top quality producer). The answer isn’t a generic branding of English wine, the answer is for each producer to put forward their own quality product and to maintain their place in a niche market and to maintain an aura of luxury about the product. I agree whole heartedly with Sarah Abbott about Britagne sounding cheap and tacky, not conducive to a quality product.

    Gun to my head which name would I go for? Merrett.

  • James Wild

    How about Chambon? It sounds like Champagne but isn’t…it is ‘bon’ or as good as Champagne but not…

    A glass of Chambon anyone?

  • James Wild

    I think English consumers are very wary of English wine…giving it a very English name will not encourage sales. Chambon or Chambonne sounds French (trusted) but slightly different. Those in the know will know its English and will try it.

    Please give the name Chambon or Chambonne (pronounced like Champagne but emphasis on the B) a go.

    A glass of Chambonne anyone?

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