Queen Elizabeth II just celebrated her sapphire anniversary, marking her 65th anniversary on the throne. That makes the 90-year-old queen the longest-reigning British monarch. Now word comes of another milestone for the queen.
Not unlike other celebrities, she has thrown her hat (or make that crown) into the winemaking arena, joining the likes of John Legend, Drew Barrymore, Antonio Banderas, Mike Ditka, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Sting, Train and, until recently, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who jointly owned Chateau Miraval in the south of France.
In 2011, a representative from Laithwaite’s, a large English wine-purveying firm, approached Queen Elizabeth for permission to plant a vineyard on the Windsor Great Park estate.
Permission was granted and approximately seven acres were planted to chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, the traditional grapes used in making Champagne.
The queen’s first harvest was in 2013. Winemaking was done by Ridgeview, a critically acclaimed sparkling wine producer in Sussex. Only 2,000 bottles of the 2013 vintage were made and released under the Great Windsor Park label.
The wine sold in a three-bottle set for about $95. The first release sold out immediately, due, no doubt, to the novelty of its source.
It garnered great reviews from critics. The 2014 vintage will be released this year. Laithwaite’s is now taking orders for the highly anticipated second release.
But the queen’s wine will not be available in America.
Great Britain is not known as wine-producing country, but it has an ancient wine culture dating to the Roman invasion of the British Isles.
History tells us that everywhere the Romans went, they planted vines, but historians are uncertain if these early invaders planted vines or if they merely brought their wine to the British Isles. Giant wine amphorae as well as drinking cups have been excavated from British Roman sites.
There is some indication that grapes were grown commercially after the Romans departed the British Isles. However, France and Italy were established trading partners with the British at the time, so there was likely little incentive for growing grapes on British soil when wine was so plentiful from trading partners.
Vineyards were planted in the 17th century. Samuel Pepys, the great British diarist, wrote in May 1665 of seeing his first vineyard planted at a Coronel Blunt’s plantation.
Vagary of weather up until approximately 20 years ago stymied commercial grape growing in the British Isles. But the gradual warming of the earth’s surface and increased scientific understanding of which grapes thrive under certain climatic conditions have made grape-growing and winemaking more economically viable.
According to English Wine Producers, England and Wales now have 133 wineries and 500 vineyards planted over 4,500 acres, which in 2015 produced approximately 4 million bottles of wine.
By comparison, in 2015, the California Institute reported that California alone had some 10,417 wineries on 615,000 acres that produced 275.7 million nine-liter cases.
Though the British wine industry is fledgling, the Isles are becoming known for their sparkling wines. This is not exactly a surprising phenomenon.
The bulk of English vineyards are located in the southern part of the country. Place your finger on the globe in the Champagne region of France. Gently spin the globe and your finger will skim the southernmost reaches of the grape-growing region of Great Britain. This region of Great Britain has the same climatic condition and chalky soils as Champagne.
Here, the three major grapes of Champagne — pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay — are grown, forming the backbone of the British sparkling wine industry.
Though the queen’s bubbles will not be available in America, the queen’s bubble producer, Ridgeview Wine Estates, distributes its own line of British sparkling wines in America. The wines are available from various online retailers, should you wish to toast the Queen’s Sapphire Anniversary.
Pat Kettles writes about wine every other week. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.