While many new entrants to the English wine scene are busy planting vineyards and installing fermentation tanks, Digby co-founders Jason Humphries and Trevor Clough have come up with a different business model. They employ winemaker Dermot Sugrue to source fruit from farmers across southern England, ie to act as a Négociant. Sparkling wine is then prepared under contract using the facilities at Wiston Estate. In other words, Digby is a virtual winery.
This is not an entirely original idea, but where Humphries and Clough have arguably broken new ground is in seeking to work with only the very best consultants. Winemaker Dermot Sugrue is not just the most famous Irishman working in the English wine industry, he's undoubtedly amongst the very best sparkling winemakers working in England today. The Wiston Estate winery is modern, well-equipped and has current spare capacity. Public Relations is handled by Su-Lin Ong who over a number of years working in the drinks business and liaising with bars and restaurants ought to have an enviable contact list. As too should marketing expert Lee Sargent, who was previously EU Marketing Director for PepsiCo.
So it's a strong-looking team, but can they pull it off? Well the jury was out until July 2013 when their first bottlings were launched at an event held at the Hyde Park bowling green. This touch of whimsy was itself not accidental for the brand is doing all it can to associate itself with a particularly English witticism. From the name* to the triangular label to the toast on the foil underside, this is a brand aiming for a light-hearted sophistication. And a very welcome change it is too. As for the wine itself, initial reviews were certainly positive though not necessarily gushing. So it took many by surprise when the Digby Reserve Brut 2009 scooped the Trophy for best English sparkling wine at the inaugural Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships (2014). That award alone has, for the moment, put Digby at the top table of English sparkling wine and made it much easier to place with selected stockists and restaurants.
Future success will depend upon maintaining strong working relationships with farmers, winery owner, consultants and consumers. That's not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds, but English sparkling wine lovers will surely be wishing them all the very best.
* Digby is named in honour of Sir Kenelm Digby, a 17th century pirate who was also instrumental in developing the modern wine bottle
Digby Fine English, Reserve Brut, 2009
Straw colour; moderately aromatic, citrus, apples, biscuits; dry, clean refreshing acidity, creamy apple, citrus, yeasty, complex palate; long length, lovely finish. (23 Oct 2014) Outstanding, 94/100
Digby Fine English, Rosé Brut, 2009
Salmon colour; moderately aromatic, citrus, red fruits, toast; dry, fresh acidity, citrus, strawberry-vanilla pudding; good length and finish. (23 Oct 2014) Outstanding, 92/100