Many thanks to all who could join us yesterday at Sheffield Hallam University for the Sparkling Symposium, hosted by the CHEFS research cluster and sponsored by Sheffield Business School, Department of Service Sector Management.
The event brought together academics and industry professionals, including wine makers, winery owners, wine retailers and wine writers, to discuss present and future directions of champagne and sparkling wine, with a focus on the British context.
The afternoon began with comments from co-organisers Professor Jennifer Smith Maguire and Dr John Dunning, welcoming 48 participants from across the UK and beyond. The Symposium marked the external launch of the CHEFS (Culture, Health, Environment, Food and Society) research cluster, and signalled the group’s commitment to fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration between academics and practitioners with regard to the socio-cultural dimensions of food and drink. What could be a better first topic of discussion than sparkling wine?
Professor Marion Demossier delivered the first keynote: ‘Critical Reflexions on Terroir,’ in which she explored the questions of ‘What do people do with the notion of terroir?’ and ‘What does terroir do to wine?’ Drawing on 30 years of fieldwork in Burgundy and recent work in New Zealand and the UK, Marion outlined the powerful instruments and strategies that have linked place, taste and quality, and highlighted some of their potential disadvantages, including the homogenization of local cultures and environments, and the loss of authentic connections between people and place.
Rebecca Gibb MW delivered the second keynote: ‘Uncorking the sparkling wine world,’ exploring some of the socio-political struggles and technological advances that underpinned the historical development of champagne. She then provided a critical analysis of the relative successes and failures of other sparkling wines. Drawing comparisons between champagne, cava, prosecco and New Zealand sparkling, Rebecca concluded by outlining some of the key factors for champagne’s enduring market success.
Following a lively question and answer session, and a break for tea, coffee and cake, the Symposium resumed with Jennifer Smith Maguire outlining ‘A changing market context’ for champagne and sparkling wine in the British context. Jennifer discussed four factors that help to understand the increasingly diverse UK sparkling wine market, highlighting changing attitudes of consumers, producers and market gatekeepers such as wine journalists with regard to luxury brands, hierarchies of cultural legitimacy, desires for the hand-crafted and authentic, and a sense of taste for place and novelty.
Participants were then treated to an entertaining and educational tasting of four champagnes, led by Rebecca and John. A highly scientific poll of participants revealed a wide spread of favourites, with each wine receiving votes for best in show: à chacun son gout!
The final major portion of the Symposium was devoted to a panel discussion of the present and future of sparkling wine. The panel included Marion Demossier, Rebecca Gibb, Mr John Mitchell and Dr Gregory Dunn. John, the owner and director of Sheffield’s Mitchells Wines, shared his insights as to the changing tastes of British consumers over his 50 years in the wine and spirits trade as a retailer and wholesaler. Greg reflected on the industry from the perspective of his research, role as the Head of Plumpton College’s Wine Division and experience as the Programme Manager for Plumpton’s MSc Viticulture & Oenology. Greg skilfully chaired the session to ensure ample contributions from the audience of both comments and questions. The panel ended with a final challenge to the panellists, asking for their recommendations as to how best to attract under-30 consumers to English sparkling wine.
After a stimulating afternoon of presentations and discussion—and many rounds of thanks to all involved—the Symposium concluded with a wine and canapé reception. Judging by the volume of conversations in the room, there was plenty of appetite for further discussion.
Thanks once again to all who took part. Until next time!