Tim Firmager meets award-winning, LGBT-run English Sparkling Wine brand, Digby, to discuss English Sparkling Wine and diversity in the industry
English Sparkling Wine has a growing reputation, and with ideal growing conditions, the south of England is expected to give rise to some of the world’s best sparkling wines, notably so. There is however a lot more to English Sparkling Wine than just grapes and bubbles, as Vada discovers.
Before we delve too deep into English Sparkling Wine, let’s clarify what English Sparkling Wine actually is.
English Sparkling Wine is very similar to Champagne, both in the sense of product and production. This is in fact different to Prosecco, which is mass-fermented in large vats, hence why its price point has been so well received in the UK – sorry to burst your bubble, Prosecco fans. The English (and French) version of this bubbly beverage undergoes its second fermentation in individual wine bottles, before any residue is flushed out and the bottle is sealed with a cork, meaning a more unique and higher quality product.
It is understood that the terroir (environment in which grapes are grown) in the south of England happens to have exactly the right mix of components to allow grapes to flourish. Hence there has been increasing hype over the past decade about this maturing product, as vineyards are seeded and developed, and the level of quality that can be expected.
A recent news article highlighted how gender diversity, and specifically female entrepreneurs are changing Champagne in France. Attending the first English Sparkling Wine show in the UK launched by Fabio Adler at Mousseux Anglais, we discovered that diversity exists this side of the Channel as well. We met Trevor Clough and Jason Humphries, a married LGBT couple who own luxury lifestyle English Sparkling Wine brand, Digby. We discussed with them the importance of English Sparkling Wine and why we should all be drinking Digby.
Jason was a software developer, focussing on speech recognition, and I [Trevor] was studying an MBA and then went on to become a strategy consultant.
I [Trevor] come from an entrepreneurial family. Jason and I had been brainstorming ideas for several years, but none had a business case that stacked up. The idea for Digby came to us, partly after a wine tour holiday to the US and after a trip to Champagne, looking for a brand for our wedding. We realised that a wine tour experience done well is something that people remember forever. This was the lightening bolt moment to build a luxury lifestyle brand for English Sparkling Wine.
After discussing the idea with multiple wine producers in Napa Valley, they all confirmed that English terroir was the future, and taught us that quality is in the blend [of the grape juice], not just in the grapes alone. We managed to develop a business case that stacked up by partnering with a portfolio of growers, choosing the blending to be our focus, and outsourcing the production. This is Digby, an English Sparkling Wine company that focusses on producing award-wining blends.
Our first vintage is from 2009, which went on sale in 2013.
Currently we have four blends, a non-vintage Brut, a vintage Brut, a vintage rosé, and Leander Pink. We have a blanc-de-blanc and a blanc-de-noir in development also.
We are focusing on developing our brand through restaurants; however our wines can be bought directly from a selection of boutique and wine retailers such as Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Hedonism Wines and of course through our own online store.
Our brand Leander Pink, for which we partner with the sports affiliate Leander Club, is available in Marks & Spencer and Waitrose stores in London and the Thames Valley area.
We are trying to increase the number of by-the-glass listings we have in London, so it’s easier to sample Digby products for the first time in a restaurant without consumers having to invest in a whole bottle. We also regularly try to attend events like Taste of London, and are increasing our social media presence.
We fell in love with the industry because English Sparkling Wine can be world class. We love making sparkling wine in an English style and with grapes from English terroir. Champagne and English Sparkling Wine are therefore on a par, because of their traditional methods of production. Whereas we don’t see Prosecco as a competing product, because it is more mass-produced and therefore not of the same level of quality.
We’ve seen an increasing expectation that wherever Champagne is available, consumers want English Sparkling Wine options as well, and this coincides with a general consumer increase in desire for artesian products.
We want Digby to become more experiential, eventually allowing customers to visit us in order to see and experience Digby for themselves. We are also looking to grow our exports, so that we’re available in New York, Tokyo and other metropolitan cities as well as London i.e. wherever our customers want to drink Digby.
Our blends each have their own personality, so it’s akin to asking us to pick our favourite between several children – we can’t pick a favourite. We drink each blend on a different occasion, and we don’t make wines to consistently taste the same. Creating a Digby blend, is like an artist at an easel, creating an expression of a particular moment in time. And when I’m [Trevor] not drinking English Sparkling Wine, I enjoy gin.
We know several vineyards that are owned by LGBT couples, so there’s not just us in terms of that type of diversity. Also, the UK’s top wine maker, of Hattingley Valley, is a woman. We see a lot of diversity within the market in the UK.
We see diversity as a strength. Our history and the emotional experience of coming-out and associated life experience for example, led us to create a novel idea: a brand, rather than just a vineyard. This has also meant that we focus on how we make people feel, which we believe gives us an advantage with regards to branding and consumer engagement. And of course, everything we create has to be fabulous.
For full information about Digby, and to buy or try your own English Sparkling Wine, visit digby-fine-english.com.