We started offering Upper Class customers the choice of an English sparkling wine alongside our usual French Champagne. Intended only as a two-week promotion in support of English Wine Week. Our chosen bottle, Hambledon Classic Cuvée proved so popular with our customers it's been a permanent feature on our Upper Class menu since 2019.

The newest new world wine nation

The great and the good of the Champagne world seem to agree, England is coming of age as a wine producing nation. English sparkling wine is now widely regarded as stiff competition to the famous Champagne region. As world-leading wine expert Oz Clarke put it, “The English wine world is a thrilling place to be now – so full of potential that I sometimes call England the newest new world wine nation.” It’s no surprise then that production of English wines has increased from around 5.3 million bottles in 2017 to over 12.2 million bottles in 2022.

Virgin Atlantic Crew

The UK’s oldest commercial vineyard

Hambledon wine

Take a drive through the stunning Hampshire countryside on England’s beautiful rolling South Downs, and if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon Hambledon vineyard in the village of – you guessed it – Hambledon.  

 First established as a vineyard by Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones in 1952, Hambledon is the oldest commercial vineyard in the UK. But English wine making goes back further than the fifties – way further in fact. English vineyards have existed since Roman times; the Doomsday Book records 42 vineyards in Southern England around the end of the 11th century. 

Fast forward to today, and Hambledon vineyard is now set on over 200 acres, with some 100,000 established vines of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the three grape varieties most commonly used in the production of Champagne). All of which are painstakingly yet lovingly pruned by hand each September before being pressed, blended and bottled onsite. 

A royal affair 

Hambledon wine Virgin crew

Hambledon wine was served by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 to the then French president, President Pompidou at a reception in the British embassy in Paris. This was to be the first time English sparkling wine was served to the president of France. Legend has it the notion of wine passing through French customs at that time heading from rather than to England caused something of a commotion among the customs officials processing it. 

Meet the owner - Ian Kellett

Ian Kellett

Ian, a vineyard, cup of tea, cricket ball and Beka, one of his Rhodesian Ridgebacks.

As a keen wine enthusiast Ian Kellett fancied having a dabble at running a vineyard, as one does. “Not one to do things by halves I decided to take on the French Champagne region” Ian recounts, “and so in 1999 I became the proud owner of the Hambledon Estate.” 

When asked what’s it like owning a vineyard: “Well, we spend an awful lot of time talking about the weather. We Brits enjoy talking about the weather, but when you run a vineyard you really talk about the weather! From April to October we pretty much ponder the weather on an hourly basis.” 

What is behind English sparkling wine’s rise to distinction?  

According to Ian, “It all comes down to geology and climate. Hambledon has the same high-grade chalk soil as the Champagne region, perfect for growing Chardonnay grapes, and a marginally cooler climate which gives fabulous acidity to make sparkling wine with.    

“It’s been mooted that our terroir (geological and climatic conditions) is on par – better even – for making sparkling wine than that of the Champagne region.   

“Then there’s lots of skill involved, of course, in blending the wine in a way that the acidity is refreshing. That’s where our head winemaker Hervé Jestin comes into his own. We’re making the quality to beat Champagne, not just match it, and consumers are increasingly drinking less Champagne and more English sparkling wine.” 

Red uniform, white wine, green vineyard, blue sky

Red uniform, white wine, green vineyard, blue sky.

So, what would Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones make of Hambledon wine being served in the sky? 


“He had a 10-acre vineyard and we’ve turned it into 200 acres with an enormous cellar big enough to hold a couple of million bottles. I love to think that he’d be proud to have Hambledon wine served by Virgin Atlantic at 35,000 feet all over the globe. 55 million bubbles in a bottle at 35,000 feet – it’s just marvellous. I do often wonder what Sir Guy would think of it all, maybe in another 50 years or so when I shuffle off this mortal coil, he’ll tell me!” 

Shiada Drysdale

“Hambledon Classic Cuvee is the epitome of homegrown elegance and sophistication in a glass. It would definitely be my drink of choice as I settle into my seat on board. We have a great relationship with Ian Kellett and the team at Hambledon. The vineyard is steeped in history and the production of their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier is exceptional. It’s no wonder they are the leading star of English sparkling wine”. – Shiada Drysdale, Manager – inflight services food and beverage.

If you fancy sipping a glass of Hambledon Classic Cuvée above the clouds, head over to virginatlantic.com. Or if you plan to keep your feet on the ground for now, check out Hambledon’s Dine in the Vines offering for some seriously mouth-watering al fresco dining in a beautiful setting.