From the Grand National to the Boat Race, how English fizz is taking over champagne as the toast of the season

April 2019

The Telegraph: Victoria Moore, April 2nd 2019

And they’re off! The Grand National takes place on Saturday.The world’s most famous steeplechase is followed by an international audience of over 600 million people, as well as the thousands who gather at Aintree to watch 40 horses and jockeys tackling this testing course.

This year, for the first time in the race’s 180-year history, the winner will celebrate with a glass not of champagne but of Coates & Seely English sparkling wine.

As well as being served in the owners and trainers enclosure, Coates & Seely English sparkling wine will also be available to race-goers so they can enjoy an elegant glass (or three) as they cheer on horses.

The news marks a big move into the very fabric of English society for the Hampshire-based producer, and is part of a new three-year partnership that will see it become the only English sparkling wine served at 14 of The Jockey Club’s 15 race-courses, including Epsom Downs and Newmarket (a rival English sparkling wine, Nyetimber, currently holds the pouring rights at Cheltenham).

I understand that competition to snag the deal was extremely fierce, as English wine producers jockey for position (forgive the pun) and, slowly but surely, lay claim to the British season: Chapel Down is already an official partner to the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race; while Nyetimber is served at Glyndebourne as well as being an official supporter of the Lawn Tennis Association.

Like most of the new generation of successful English sparkling wines, Coates & Seely is made from the champagne grapes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. The company was founded in 2008 by two old friends and INSEAD alumni, Nick Coates and Christian Seely.

Coates had recently retired from a career in the City. Seely was – and still is – Managing Director of AXA Millésimes, a role that puts him in charge of prestigious wine estates such as Chateau Pichon Baron in Bordeaux and Quinta do Noval in Portugal’s Douro Valley.

Last week I met up with Coates and Seely to trundle through the streets of London in “Albion” – a 1952 British Leyland Coach painstakingly restored and liveried in British racing green. Albion will also be attending Jockey Club racecourses throughout the summer, and serving Coates & Seely sparkling wine from a small bar inside.

It’s a lovely old thing – though I was surprised to see the driver taking a large branch from the Belgrave Square pavement and dipping it into the tank to check we had enough petrol to make it to Pall Mall. But as with all the best British things it would be a very big mistake to assume that charm equates to lack of competitive edge.

“The main thing – the only thing – I learnt in all these vineyards,” said Seely, “was that any great wine expresses a sense of place and I became obsessed with the idea of finding chalky land in the south of England where it might be possible to make great wine. The wines we have begun to make show that it’s possible.”

A fair observation, and if you do happen to be at Aintree (or near a branch of Lea & Sandeman) this weekend then I particularly commend the Coates & Seely Sparkling Rosé NV.