English sparkling wine
The famous Louis Pommery have planted an English vineyard in Hampshire so that they can produce their own English sparkling wines. After a visit in 2017 they fell 'in love with the magnificent region'. Since then, the vineyard has produced it's first English sparkling wine and it is already being celebrated by critics as a triumph and a welcome addition to this prestigious Champagne house.
We contacted Louis Pommery and interviewed Clement Pierlot their winemaker on the new English sparkling wine.
Clément, welcome to the English wine Collection’s Vineyard focus. To start, could you provide some background on yourself.
As the grandson of a farmer, I have always been passionate about the professions of the Earth. After I completed my preparatory classes in Biology in Reims, I joined, in 1999, Montpellier SupAgro where I trained in viticulture and oenology, which included experiences abroad, particularly in the Niagara peninsula in Canada and in Italy.
In 2002, I graduated with the National Diploma of Oenology, after an exciting experience at the Champagne Committee on Champagne pressing.
Between 2002 and 2003, I continued to work at the Champagne Committee as a project manager in oenology, on gas exchanges and especially oxygen.
I joined the Vranken-Pommery Monopole Group as the Director of the ‘Vignobles Champenois’ in January 2004.
In 2010, I took my first steps on Vranken’s Champagne tasting committee.
From 2014, I took over the group’s wine development in Champagne and extended my responsibilities with the launch of the Louis Pommery project in Hampshire, England.
Finally, in July 2017, I took over from Thierry Gasco, as Pommery's Cellar Manager.
Why did Louis Pommery decide to plant a vineyard in England?
It is above all a story of men and passion. With Mr. Vranken, we were intrigued by the English lands and its chalk soil, which share, in certain respects, similarities with Champagne. The global warming, which is on everyone’s lips, could suggest a more and more favourable vine culture across the Channel.
We travelled there late 2014 / early 2015, started tasting the wines and endorsed our very first partnerships. It was then that we decided to truly establish ourselves, convinced by the potential of the region. We opted for Hampshire because we fell in love with the magnificent region, and from then on, planting vines seemed plainly obvious. On all the terroirs where we have expressed ourselves, whether it be Champagne, Sables de Camargue, Provence, Douro Valley, an owned vineyard is the base of all our blends.
The Pinglestone site is a stroke of good luck, we discovered it while we were roaming the countryside in search of land. We had an extremely positive feeling about this place. We immediately felt it was the right one, and we shouldn't wait.
The feeling when you are on good soil is often as important as the soil analyses that you can accomplish on site. Fortunately, the soil and pits analysis confirmed our impressions. The site, by its geology, its microclimate and its exposure offered certain guarantees. It is set in a beautiful natural setting, the Itchen Valley, around the corner from the South Downs National Park and close to a very pretty town called New Alresford.
We had the opportunity to acquire the land in January 2017 and started planting in October of the same year.
How big is the English vineyard that Louis Pommery has planted? Are there plans to expand?
Pinglestone covers 40 ha, of which around 30 ha were planted with vines between 2017 and 2019. A new site called Lovington, a few minutes from Pinglestone, which we also own, will be planted this year for an area spanning approximatively 10 ha.
The Chardonnay forms the majority with more than 50% of the total surface. Then there is Pinot Noir and lastly Meunier. We have also planted a little Pinot Gris out of curiosity.
We don't really have any plans for expansion. It is important for us to only produce and market the fruit from our vines. However, we remain mindful and responsive to anything that may arise. We only look at the very beautiful terroirs, but also wish to focus on Hampshire.
How are you involved with the English Vineyard and wine making?
I have been involved with the project from the very beginning. I was responsible for the various studies and the establishment of the vineyard with our French teams. We quickly hired an English culture manager to help me on site.
For the wine, we have been working hand in hand with Thierry Gasco, my predecessor at Pommery, who provides us with his help and experience. He himself approved the first Louis Pommery blends. Three Champagne oenologists are now working on our English project.
With such an impressive and prestigious history Louis Pommery has been producing some of the finest Champagnes for a number of years. How do the English sparkling wines compare to your Champagne?
I believe it is not effective to compare these two products. They are two Denominations of Origin with qualities specific to their terroir. Champagne is rich from centuries of history; its terroirs have been defined and cultivated for a very long time. The regulations of the Denomination of Origin are precise, demanding and respected by all. English Sparkling Wine is still under development, there is a lot of work to be done.
Our project is based on a profound respect for the Hampshire terroir. We want to bring our know-how, to export part of the Pommery style but express the DNA of the Pinglestone terroir.
What is certain is that we are very positive about the potential of the English terroirs.
Do you think that English sparkling wine and Champagne should be considered as separate wines, defined by region and terroir or should they be all classed together?
They are unmistakably both in the sparkling category, but it would be simplistic to stop at this definition. The region, the terroir and the rules of production are much more important. There is only Champagne from Champagne. The same will apply to English Sparkling Wine.
The wine’s intrinsic characteristics (its frame, its texture, its aromatic signature) are linked to the terroir and transcend its simple effervescent character.
What has been the reaction to the English sparkling wines? Has it been a tough ‘Sell’ to your Champagne admirers?
The first feedback has been very good, we have won a few important awards. We have no difficulties with our Champagne customers because we have never compared the two products. The project is well differentiated and targets certain specific markets.
What are the plans for the future of the vineyard?
We do not have any expansion plans yet. We have grown quite quickly and reached the size we set ourselves to be able to market wines only from our own vineyards.
The project is based on the Hampshire terroir. There is no question of establishing ourselves in other regions at the moment.
What are your personal favourite wines of choice. Do you make sure that your wines compliment food too?
My favourite wines are our Champagnes of course. Pommery wines have historically been focused towards gastronomy. Each ‘Cuvée de la Maison’ is designed to complement the most delicate dishes. We have notably created a range dedicated to gastronomy called Apanage. Our vintages and of course the Cuvée Louise Pommery are the preferential wines when it comes to food and wine pairing.
Will Louis Pommery consider producing any still wines?
It is not at all on the agenda. I am not sure the English terroir is naturally suited to this production variety. We know the difficulty of making still wine in Champagne where the climate and maturation conditions are more favourable. We are, above all, makers of sparkling wines, but who knows? Everything is changing so quickly right now ...
To find out more about the award winning English sparkling wine from Louis Pommery click here.