An interesting story is brewing in the world of English sparkling wine. Victoria Moore reports on it here in The Telegraph, and pretty much nails it.
So a coalition of Sussex wineries – Rathfinny, Ridgeview, Bolney – are applying for a PDO (protected designation of origin). This is an official EU designation for quality products that are linked to a certain place. Think Melton Mowbray pork pies, Cheddar cheese, Jersey Royal potatoes. They want ‘Sussex Sparkling’ to be recognized in a similar way.
For those who like rules, these are the existing protected names. There’s PDO status for ‘English’ wine (see the rules here) and ‘Welsh’ wine; and there’s also the PGI (protected geographic origin) for ‘English Regional’ and ‘Welsh Regional’ wine (see rules here). In addition, there’s an English/Welsh quality sparkling wine PDO (rules here). The idea is that wines with these status marks will have passed basic quality tests and be authentic products.
The idea for the Sussex Sparkling PDO? Stricter rules on production than currently exist, and a nice marketable term because tighter geographic origin implies higher quality.
As Victoria points out, there’s a big problem here. Sussex is an administrative/political area with boundaries that aren’t determined by soil type. And for sparkling wine production, soil type is all important. Climate is too: but those climates where you can successfully ripen grapes in the south of England tend to be relatively similar, with the big difference being the soil. So sparkling wines from Sussex won’t all share similar characteristics. A sparkling wine from Sussex grown on chalky soils will likely taste more similar to a sparkling wine grown in Hampshire on chalky soils than to a Sussex wine grown on Greensand.
Also, Rathfinny, one of the producers pressing for this PDO, haven’t yet released a wine. It seems a little premature.
Also, Nyetimber, Sussex’ most famous winery, have some significant vineyards outside the county, so they couldn’t be included, even though (many people think) they make the UK’s best sparkling wines.
But there’s also another factor that no one has yet reported on. A quick search of trademarks for ‘Sussex Sparkling’ reveal that Rathfinny trademarked the term in April 2012 (application was filed in November 2011). A PDO that’s also the trademark of a single producer? This is concerning from a legal standpoint: effectively, Rathfinny could then decide who gets to use the PDO.