Vintage vs Non- Vintage explained

WHERE HAS English sparkling wine COME FROM..?

Grapes for wine have been grown the UK for many years – in fact, close to us here at Wiston there is archeological evidence of vineyards planted by the Romans. But it is only in the last twenty years or so that England has started to gain an international reputation for the quality of the wines made here. Particularly, traditional method sparkling wines, whereby the second fermentation takes place in the bottle (rather than a tank) – giving us that wonderful delicate mousse and those complex toasty flavours. This is the method used for centuries in Champagne – and we also use the same grape varieties as our French cousins – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Pinot Noir grapes at Wiston Estate
Wiston Estate Vintages

The South of England also shares with Champagne the same strata of chalk bedrock – which is particularly good for growing these varieties. The chalky cliffs and hills of the South Downs make an ideal home for making premium traditional method sparkling wine – draining well in the wet weather, but holding enough water to keep the vines happy when it gets hot. Why is this all relevant to Non-Vintage vs. Vintage? Well, the other technique we have inherited from Champagne is method of blending different harvests to make ‘non-vintage’ wines (NV). To make the same sparkling wine year in year out – as the Champenoise worked out a while ago – is quite challenging in the marginal climate which we find ourselves in. Our summers vary hugely – as we only know too well. One year can be glorious, the next miserable. But we would like a bottle of Wiston NV to be the same experience if you buy it this year, next year, and onwards – much as you would expect of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or Moët. By reserving a small amount of wine each year you can use it in future years to balance out the irregularities Mother Nature brings with the varying vintages – these wines which are held back each year are called ‘reserve wines’. We started holding back reserve wines in our first ever harvest 2008, and have done so every year since (except 2012 – a terrible year). So our Brut NV, Rosé NV and Blanc de Blancs NV all have a portion of our reserve wines in – a memory of every harvest Wiston has picked. It is easy to spot a NV wine – it won’t have a harvest year on the front or back label.

‘Vintage’ sparkling wine – like most still wines – is made with the grapes from one year’s harvest. Traditionally in Champagne ‘vintage’ wines are only made in the best years (and best grapes) and we echo this method here at Wiston. It does not necessarily mean ‘old’ – you can spot how old it is from the year on the bottle. Our youngest current vintage releases are from the 2018 harvest – a particularly good year for England. Our current oldest release is our Library Collection Blanc de Blancs 2010.

In summary – our NV wines will be a classic ‘Wiston’ style which we try to replicate each year with the help of reserve wines and blending. They are ready to drink on release thanks to the blending and ageing they have done in our cellars. Our Vintage wines are made in the best years – and will have individual characters and styles as a result. They are snapshots of a vineyard and a harvest which are built to age and mature for many years.

Wiston NV Collection