The newspapers this week have been full of articles about how a group of Sussex wine producers, including Rathfinny, are drawing up a proposal for a PDO. So what is a PDO and why are Rathfinny so keen about a PDO for Sussex?
“A Protected Designation of Origin (PDO): is open to products which are produced, processed and prepared within a particular geographical area, and with features and characteristics which must be due to the geographical area.”
There are various examples of PDOs in England such as Cornish Pasties, Clotted Cream and Jersey Royal potatoes. Champagne is a PDO, and other wine regions across Europe have established PDO status to protect the producers within specified geographical regions.
PDOs are “EU Protected Food Name schemes” that “highlight(s) regional and traditional foods whose authenticity and origin can be guaranteed.” They are designed to promote and protect names of quality agricultural products and foodstuffs across Europe.
We are keen to establish a Sussex PDO to give consumers of Sussex wine a guarantee of quality and a clear indication that Sussex wine has been made under strict guidelines.
All wines which are labelled as Sussex must be made in Sussex from grapes grown in Sussex. The rules associated with grape growing, cropping levels, pressing standards and winemaking rules are much tighter than the current English PDO. For sparkling wine they are very similar to the rules associated with Champagne. The wine must be made in the ‘Traditional Method’, be aged in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months and use the best quality juice from the first pressings. We have also established a ‘qualitative analysis’, which will ensure that each wine is of the highest standard and only the best wines are labelled as Sussex.
Why Sussex? Well firstly, it’s such a great name. Sussex is one of the oldest counties in England. We benefit from having the South Downs, which rise from the sea at Beachy Head in East Sussex and run across through West Sussex. The majority of Sussex vineyards are planted either on the chalk of the South Downs or on the Greensands to the north of this geological feature. To the south, Sussex borders the English Channel and benefits from what is classified as a ‘semi-continental’ climate, it is slightly drier than many areas in the UK and slightly warmer, and Eastbourne still holds the record as the sunniest place in England. The long summer days produce grapes that have great acidity and full phenolic ripeness, essential for high quality wines and in particularly sparkling wines. The proof of this is in the fact that no fewer than eight top international awards have been won by Sussex wine producers in recent years.
Sussex is also a very distinct, quintessentially English name and Sussex wine makers are keen to produce a distinctly English wine from Sussex.
The ambition is that in ten years time you will walk into a bar or restaurant and be asked, “Would you like a glass Champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex?”
However, a recurring issue has been raised:
I can’t tell the difference between a wine made in Sussex from one made in Hampshire – the implication being that there is no basis for a Sussex PDO. This misunderstands the issue on two counts:
Firstly, a PDO highlights regional and traditional foods whose ‘authenticity and origin can be guaranteed’. In other words it gives people more information about what they are buying. As discussed above, the ability to taste the difference is not the basis of a PDO. A PDO can be granted to products from a specific area, in this case Sussex, with features and characteristics due to geographical area, in this case the chalk South Downs, the proximity to the English Channel, the climate and the other features I’ve described. As an aside, I’m not sure the man on the street would always be able to taste the difference between say a Cornish pasty and one made in Devon! (I now await a barrage of emails disputing this!)
Secondly, however, the ability to taste the difference between areas, indeed between areas within a specific vineyard is the beauty of wine. Think about the differences between Meursault and St Aubin, which are next door to each other. We’ve just been visiting the Margaret River in Western Australia and there are very subtle differences, both within the region, for example between Leeuwin Estate and Cape Mentelle, but there are also differences between the wines made in the Margaret River and those made just to the south around Pemberton. By establishing a PDO it enables the producers within the geographical area to introduce a set of rules. In the case of Sussex wine this will ensure that all the wines with Sussex on the label will be of a consistently high quality.
Lastly, the alternative is that we continue to use the rather dull name of English Sparkling Wine for our fizz, which is such a mouthful and all it tells you is what’s in the bottle, whilst Sussex gives you a sense of place, something that is so important to wine.
So far we have had great support from other Sussex producers as well as DEFRA and once we have agreed the rules associated with the PDO we hope to submit the application for designation very soon.