Is it Time for an English Sparkling Wine Cooperative?

The Champagne and English Sparkling Wine industries are very different beasts, not only in their size but also in their structure. In Champagne, the majority of wine is produced by the Négociant-Manipulant (NP) who largely buy in grapes, often under long-term contracts. They then produce wine on a very large scale, so that 300 NP account for ca. 69% of Champagne. By contrast, in the UK we have only a handful of NM (e.g. Digby Fine English) though many of the larger producers will buy grapes from farmers to supplement their own estate holdings.

Another important feature of the Champagne District is the Cooperative. In 2012 there were 43 cooperatives in Champagne which produced 27.7 million bottles (9% of total Champagne production). Cooperatives enable growers to participate in Champagne production without the need for the purchase of capital-intensive equipment, or having the requirement of being tied to a NM. It makes an efficient use of equipment as well as providing the blender with a range of base wines from different terroirs. In the UK the best known Champagne Cooperative is probably Nicolas Feuillatte.

Frazer Thompson of Chapel Down warned in 2013 that the English Sparkling Wine Industry could not maintain its growth rate and speculated that there could be a number of winery failures in the foreseeable future. One way of reducing overheads and increasing efficiency would be through the formation of an English Sparkling Wine Cooperative. This idea has been tossed around for sometime by staff at Bluebell Vineyards, amongst others.  The Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Mid Sussex (Greg Mountain) has issued a Press Release in which he says he supports the creation of a wine cooperative in Sussex. We agree. The time is right for Sussex to provide the UK with its first English Sparkling Wine Cooperative.