Wines to get excited about - Fruit & Vine

Wines to get excited about

This month, Tom Gilbey, founder of wine events business Tom Gilbey Ltd, talks to deputy editor Sarah Kidby about the growing demand for English and Welsh wines, and the future opportunities for the sector.

Tom Gilbey

Q. What are your favourite English wines?

A: It would have to be sparkling wines really – my personal favourites are Nyetimber, Simpsons, Camel Valley rosé, and Hambledon. The really exciting thing for English wine now is that we’re beginning to produce some fantastic still Chardonnay and my favourite by a country mile is Danbury’s in Essex.

Q. Are wines from PiWi varieties tough to sell?

A: I think anything that’s not obvious has to be a real ‘hand’ sell. It’s got to be sold by somebody or a company which has a very loyal following and really trusted, because no one – or 99.999% of people – will have never heard of Solaris, Regent, or any of these others, and they won’t have a clue what it tastes like.

I also think there’s a massive opportunity to actually be a bit bolder in our marketing and our communication about English and Welsh wine. People get upset when their white wine is compared to Chablis and their sparkling wine is compared to Champagne. I think we could and should embrace that and actually stick one on the French, tell everyone it’s better and run blind tastings that we know we’re capable of winning. And marketing that quite vigorously.

Q. What do you think about the wines produced from PiWis?

A: I think they’re really interesting. There are some that are really good, and it very much depends on who’s making it. Sadly, I think there are still a lot of English wineries out there who are making substandard wine. And that’s really sad because their next-door neighbours are making really great wine. We have a degree of regulation in this country, but we need it to be a bit stronger, and we really need to stop poor product from going on the shelves labelled English or Welsh wine.

Q. What are the opportunities for the sector?

A: With the combination of climate change and [English and Welsh wineries] beginning to be recognised for making very good wines, I think we’ll see more and more people trying to make still white wine – particularly out of recognised grape varieties, principally Chardonnay. Simpsons does a fantastic Pinot Meunier and there are some great wineries doing amazing things with Pinot Gris.

Also I think there is going to be more and more investment in individual brands. It’s not very attractive for a vineyard that is producing great wine and has made a significant financial and time investment, to swim in the same pool as those vineyards that don’t try quite so hard or spend quite so much.

Q. What advice would you give to wine makers and growers?

A: Embrace any comparison that you’re given with a recognised wine region like Champagne or Chablis. Be really bold.

Put your heart and soul and life into only producing wines that you genuinely think can compete on an international market and win. For example, I have not tasted a Pinot Noir made in this country that is worth the money. I’m not saying they’re bad, but they’re £30–40 a bottle. Whereas if I spent £30–40 on Danbury Chardonnay, I’d be absolutely tickled pink. I think we’re trying to do things that our climate doesn’t allow. I would focus more on wines that I know I can produce world class quality for the price.

Q. Do you think there is growing demand for English and Welsh wine?

A: Massively growing popularity. I spend a lot of time advising companies in the city who buy wine to serve for their receptions and they’re still buying loads of Champagne. I just think ‘you’re nuts’. Why would we not support our world class industry? I think all our restaurants should be serving, instead of Champagne, a very good English sparkling wine – and many of them do. And they should be able to buy it at a price that is comparable, or ideally slightly less than, the equivalent Champagne. It makes complete sense – we’re really, really good.

Meet our expert

Tom Gilbey’s family were the first English family to buy a chateau in Bordeaux in 1875, and imported and distributed wine throughout the UK, Ireland and globally. His parents ran a restaurant and also imported and distributed wine. After leaving university he worked for an Australian winemaker followed by a traditional wine merchant in London. He set up his own company in 2010, The Vintner, which supplied wine to chefs, party companies, hotels etc, and also ran an events business. When Covid-19 hit in 2020, he sold the company except for the events aspect, and Tom Gilbey Ltd was born – initially as an online wine events business, then later switching to live events. Tom also recently ran the London Marathon for Sobell House Hospital, blind tasting 25 wines on the route. Find Tom on Instagram: @tomgilbeywine

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