Julia Trustram Eve is at the forefront of the British wine scene as Head of Marketing for Wine GB, but it was actually bottles of Burgundy and Claret that first brought her into the wine world. Amanda Barnes interviews Julia on her pathway into wine, what excites her most about the world of British wine today and the establishment of the Great British Classic Method.
How did you get into wine?
Thanks to my father I was introduced to the subtleties of identifying a Claret bottle from a Burgundy bottle from a very young age. He enjoyed his wine and had some good friends in the wine trade, a couple of whom became great mentors and I was lucky to learn from them. I discovered wine ‘properly’ on a three-month cookery course in my late teens – it was really to fill in some time after leaving school and before college. The person who ran the school recognised that we should gain an understanding of wine if we were learning about cooking. I soon realised that wine was what I wanted to learn more of. I left the course having gained the top prize for my project … on English wine! I then embarked on what has been a lifelong love and career in wine. Before getting in to the wonderful world of GB wine, I worked for importers, fine wine brokers, educators and in retail, before working for an English vineyard which led to English Wine Producers (EWP) and now WineGB. Believe it or not – I’m coming up to 30 years in this industry (I can’t believe it!).
As Head of Marketing for Wines GB, how have you seen the interest in British wines change over the past year of pandemic lockdowns? Is it still continuing to rise?
Last year was extraordinary on so many levels. Many of the producers moved online and experienced an extraordinary rise in sales. Many were brilliant with keeping in touch with their customers which I really think created some fantastic customer loyalty which just grows and grows. Some kept them up to date with news from the vineyard, even staging online tastings or virtual wine tours. We also noticed a growing trend in appreciating all things ‘local’ which created more of a focus on our wines and their availability either direct from vineyards or through the many retailers. When lockdown was lifted in the summer last year, vineyards were inundated with visitors, I’m sure many were keen to get out to the countryside. Overall, we experienced a rise in sales of some 30%. A number of retailers also reported a very healthy rise in sales last year over the previous year. And yes, sales do appear to be continuing to rise – Shop Local, ready availability online and on the high street has encouraged people to go out and buy. This is in no small way due to the many articles in the press and featuring English & Welsh wines. I honestly don’t think I’ve witnessed this much coverage before. The audience has grown and encompasses younger consumers who are inspired to discover our wines through social media and the huge coverage in the wider press.
How do you think the recent bumper vintages will affect supply and demand here or in the export market for British wine?
We had a bumper year in 2018 producing some 13.2m bottles; in 2019 we produced 10.5m and last year it dropped to 8.7m, so there is some element of natural regulation on supply due to the variability of the weather. However, we are of course producing more than we ever did. Domestic sales – be it direct from the vineyards, wine tourism, hospitality and retail – is on the up and we foresee will continue to rise. Export is our next focus area; pre-COVID some great inroads and exports accounted for 10% of all sales. We anticipate that this will rise over the next years as we develop trade in Scandinavia, US and Japan principally. New trade deals will certainly enable us to develop our exports effectively. Our exporting producers can now offer consistent supply and there seems to be a healthy appetite in these markets for our products. When the world opens up again, this will also help to grow our wine tourism offering which has enormous potential.
England is obviously best known today for its traditional method sparkling wines. What do you think about the growing categories of pet nat and other sparkling wine methods? Are Wines GB planning to set out any sort of categorisation of sparkling wine in the UK?
It is really exciting to see the level of innovation and variety now being produced in the UK. We are not standing still! I would also add the exciting developments in still wines too. We are not encumbered by regulations which we see as an advantage.
However, it is critical that we take measures to protect what is most precious to us – our traditional method sparkling wines – this is the product sector which is almost entirely responsible for our remarkable status in the wine world.
Last year we created a key strategy to confidently and proactively establish these wines from this method of production as the authentic expression of sparkling wine from Great Britain, and the greatest expression of its terroir, and to create a visual descriptor for them.
We do not have a natural name for English or Welsh sparkling wine, nor does the industry want to ‘invent’ one … so we created Great British Classic Method. In order to bear the visual identity, the wines need to have gained PDO or PGI status. Some producers are already bearing the GBCM hallmark which is great and in time we are working on seeing the term Classic Method applied on both labels and in the description for our wines produced by this method.
We are positively differentiating Classic Method from those made by processes such as Charmat, Pet Nat and aeration, using the halo from Classic Method Sparkling as a way to highlight the growing diversity and increasingly varied positioning of all wine styles produced in Great Britain.
Great British Classic Method has also addressed another issue in our communications, which is to embrace terms such as ‘British’ and ‘Great Britain’ to being associated with our industry and its wines.
What are your plans for the summer? Are you looking forward to getting away anywhere now that travel is somewhat feasible again?
Well like many people the overseas holiday is off the cards this year! However – and last year taught us all – how lucky are we to live in this fantastic country with so much going on and so many places to visit! I’ll be making the most of the time I plan to take off (although rather caught up in plans for the WineGB trade tasting on 7 September!) and visit some vineyards – catch up with friends old and new in the industry.