The History of English Sparkling Wine
It was reportedly an English scientist named Christopher Merret, who, in the 1660s, was the first to document the use additional sugar to carry out a secondary fermentation within a closed bottle of still wine, creating a fizzy finished product. He presented a paper to the Royal Society in 1662 stating* "our wine coopers of recent times use vast quantities of sugar and molasses to all sorts of wine to make them brisk and sparkling" The demand for the increasingly popular sparkling wines was greatest in the UK during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the Champenoise refined the art of the production of top quality sparkling wines to supply this demand.
It was not until the mid-20th century that English vineyards began commercially producing sparkling wines. Over the past 60 years, English vineyards have been perfecting the art of making quality sparkling wines. Notable wine producers such as Carr-Taylor Vineyards and Lamberhurst vineyards in Sussex took the first steps to pave the way commercially for more recent vineyards in the 1990s such as Chapel Down, RidgeView, Nyetimber and Camel Valley to excel in the production of a top quality product.
Awards for English sparkling wines have been coming home from abroad regularly, with the first IWSC trophy awarded to an English vineyard, Rock Lodge Vineyard in 1989. More recently, RidgeView have been awarded the Decanter World of Wine award for the "Best sparkling wine in the world over £10". Nyetimber have won the IWSC "Best Worldwide Sparkling Wine" and the "Champion of Worldwide Sparkling Wines" at the Bollicine Del Mondo, Italian world sparkling wine competition in 2009. Camel Valley's 2008 Pinot noir rosť won best sparkling rosť in the world at the Bollicine Del Mondo, in 2010.
In recent years, plantings in England and Wales have increased greatly, with over 1380 hectares (1 hectare = 2.47 acres) of land currently under vine with more being planted every year. The percentage of these plantings aimed at sparkling wines is also increasing year on year. There are currently around 150 vineyards that grow grapes for the production of sparkling wines. The future of English sparkling wines is looking good with the vast plantings that have taken place.
*thanks to Stephen Skelton author of the UK Vineyards Guide available here for the quote