Stop for a moment and still your sparkling mind: can you recall where you were when you first tasted Bollinger RD? Or where you tasted your first Cristal? What about when you first discovered Nyetimber? Chances are that it was probably a different place each time. For me, all these memories come together since I first tasted all of them in the Southwest’s (arguably the country’s) most comprehensive wine lounge for Fizz in all its forms – Le Vignoble, in Plymouth’s Royal William Yard.
Set in the historic surroundings of an old naval victualling yard, this elegant venue and wine shop is the culmination of a life’s dream for its charming French propriétaire, Yannick Loué. Around fifteen years ago, this aspiration was a seedling germinated while Yannick was sitting drinking coffee in a bar on the marina in Bonifacio, Corsica. While people-watching he noticed the privileged yacht-owners buying champagne to take back on board their luxury vessels, and the idea for selling champagne and fine wine was born.
While working in hospitality the UK in the interim, Yannick noticed that there were very few specialised independent wineshops, but a lot of chains. He found that wine knowledge in general here was poor. Most people seemed to depend on a sommelier, not really understanding what they liked themselves. He wanted Le Vignoble to be somewhere that people could explore and learn about wine. With his background in hospitality he was never daunted by the long hours necessary in setting up and running an independent hybrid wine shop and lounge. The result is an elegant yet welcoming establishment which has become very popular in the area, and has enabled a growing appreciation of fine wine and bubbly in the South West.
Although initially Yannick was keen to stock Champagne from independent Growers, it soon became apparent that, in the Southwest at least, consumers liked the big brand names, which Le Vignoble stocks in abundance. A fine selection from houses such as Krug, Billecart-Salmon, Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Ruinart and Louis Roederer is available, in addition to their latest offering, a fine grower Champagne from Larnaudie-Hirault, imported directly from the producer to offer the best possible price to their loyal clientele; Le Vignoble has exclusivity for supplying Larnaudie-Hirault in the Southwest.
Aside from Champagne, Yannick is a champion of English Sparkling Wine, particularly from vineyards in the Southwest, and every year during English Wine Week hosts a showcase tasting with a number of winemakers. Always a sell-out event, Le Vignoble’s clients look forward to this fantastic and fun event from one year to the next. English wineries featured at Le Vignoble include Camel Valley, Furleigh Estate, Polgoon, Sharpham Estate, Knightor Winery, and, of course, Nyetimber. It is really satisfying to see English Sparkling Wine so well-represented here. So many wine bars and restaurants throughout the UK fail to support our home-grown wine industry, which is disappointing, of course, but I think they also miss out because the fine wine consumer today expects to see our excellent English Sparkling on the menu. I have always thought Yannick well ahead of the game in this regard.
From the rest of the world, you can find Prosecco, of course, and also Sparkling Wine from the New World – USA, Australia, Brazil and even Canada!
Aside from the English Wine Week showcase event, Le Vignoble usually hosts 2 or three other Champagne or Sparkling Wine events per year, always sold out. There is also a good selection of fizz by the glass, in addition to the wide range by the bottle, with usually at least 4 options available – usually a Prosecco or New World Sparkling, two local Sparkling and one Champagne. You can see why I like to pop in on a regular basis for light sparkling refreshment!!
I talked to Yannick about what the future holds for Champagne and Sparkling Wine. He believes that Champagne Houses may have become complacent having had it too easy for too long, and that there is a serious risk of Champagne being surpassed by English Sparkling in the future, especially in the UK market. This risk is accentuated now with the weak pound, an effect of the EU Referendum and looming Brexit. Certainly Yannick finds that English Sparkling Wine is more popular already with the clients of Le Vignoble, that local people really buy into local producers.
With regard to other Sparkling Wine from around the world, Yannick thinks that the most under-rated is probably Tasmania – this is a region we must watch out for in the future.
His favourite way to enjoy Champagne or Sparkling Wine – At the beginning of a holiday in the South of France with his better half, Ele, or overlooking the River Tamar at their home in Cornwall.
Le Vignoble relaunches today after refurbishment and introduction of a new menu, check it out!
For details of Sparkling events at Le Vignoble, keep an eye on their website levignoble.co.uk