THE godfather of English wine has died, his family has announced.

Mike Roberts MBE co-founded Ridgeview Wine Estate in Ditchling with his wife Chris in 1994.

The vineyard has pioneered the production of high-quality sparkling wine in Sussex and won countless international awards against prestigious Champagnes.

Mr Roberts’ family, who run the renowned estate, said his death on Friday, November 14 aged 71 came as an “almighty shock”.

In a statement his family wrote: “It is with great sadness that we need to inform you that Mike Roberts has passed away.

“As some of you are aware he had been ill for a period of time but this still comes as an almighty shock to all of us.

“Of course we will organise an occasion to celebrate his life – what we’d ask you to do today is to raise a glass to Mike and say ‘cheers’ to what has been a wonderful, fun and hugely fulfilling life.

“We’ll miss him massively.”

The family estate is managed by Mr Roberts’ daughter Tamara while his son Simon is winemaker.

It uses classic grape varieties chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier and shares a similar chalky geography and climate to Champagne, enabling it to stand up to the world’s best.

Mr Roberts was a long-time chairman of the English Wine Producers and produced his first vintage in 1996.

He worked with many local growers in or near the South Downs National Park.

Ridgeview wines have been victorious in the Decanter World Wine Awards, the International Wine and Spirit Competition and Egon Ronay Grand Prix and served to Her Majesty The Queen at state banquets.

Production recently increased from 30,000 bottles a year to 250,000 after investment in new bottling facilities.

Speaking about founding Ridgeview on the company website, Mike Roberts said: “To me, it was obvious that sparkling wine was the way to go because what you get here in Sussex (and in Champagne) is fully ripe grapes with great flavour, but which aren’t high in alcohol, as this prevents fermentation, which creates fizz. “Because we get cold nights even in summer, English grapes have super-acidity – the hallmark of a good sparkling wine.”

Nick Mosley, managing director of the Brighton and Hove Food Festival, said: “In the world of English sparkling wines, Mike has been a Methuselah figure.

“His contribution to the wine industry – in terms of quality English wine production and export – is unsurpassed.

“The legacy that he has created has resulted in English sparkling wine being recognised on a global platform as amongst the best in the world.”