The English wine industry is enjoying a glorious period at the moment with family firms are at the fore of it. This is especially good news when you consider that English winemakers had warned earlier this year that the air frost that hit the country following a warm start to 2017 had caused “catastrophic” damage to buds which had bloomed earlier than usual.
Here, specialist wine insurance provider Lycetts offers an in-depth look at how England’s wine scenery is something to be celebrated:
How the English wine industry grew in 2016
Analysis by online business finance supermarket Funding Options has found that independent English wine producers increased their turnover to a record high of £131.9 million in 2015/16. This is a 16 per cent rise on the £113.8 million turnover which was recorded in 2014/15, as well as a considerable jump from the £55.7 million recorded just five years ago (2010/11).
Helping with this growth, new statistics from HM Revenue and Customs has illustrated that 64 new wine producers obtained a licence for wine production in 2016 — yet another record for the English wine industry.
Conrad Ford, the founder of Funding Options, acknowledged that “English wine is going from strength to strength.” However, he was keen to add: “The English wine industry is not only gaining traction amongst domestic consumers, but is now being ranked with wines from traditional white wine-producing countries such as France and Germany.”
“Wine growers need to reduce restrictions on production and capacity to ensure consistent, sustainable growth in the long-term. The fall in the value of sterling serves to showcase exactly how producers need to be able to increase capacity to react quickly to changing market conditions.”
Award-winning wine from English shores
Another boost for the English wine industry has been the fact that the country is now home to award-winning drinks which beat off international competition.
In May 2017, Winbirri Vineyards’ Bacchus 2015 wine was honoured as the world’s best white wine, picking up the Platinum Best in Show prize at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The Norfolk-based wine beat off competition from some 17,200 other entries and received a score of 95 out of 100 by a panel of 200 experts from across the globe.
Commenting on the award win, Miles Beale, the chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said: “It comes as no surprise to us that an English Bacchus wine has won a major international award. Up until now, English Sparkling Wine has been grabbing most of the headlines for its outstanding quality. It was only a matter of time before an English still wine showed the world it can also compete with the best.”
There have been many other prestigious award wins for English wine over the years. In 2010, both the Camel Valley winery in Cornwall and Nyetimber in West Sussex were recognised at the 2010 International Wine Challenge — the former for its 2008 Pinot Noir Rose Brut and the latter with its 2001 Blanc de Blancs.
More recently, Good Life Farm Shop was awarded a Silver at the inaugural Independent English Wine Awards for its 2013 Blanc de Noirs wine, while last year East Sussex-based Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard’s 2015 Regent Rose was awarded the only ‘Top Gold’ medal at the 2016 International Organic Wine Awards.
FBU members Rigeview Winery and Bolney Wine Estate have also become renowned and picked up awards for their wines around the world too.
Facts & figures showcasing the scope of the English wine industry
Statistics provided by English Wine Producers has shed light on just how bustling the English wine scene is — a scene that came to be when the Romans brought wine-making to Britain around 2,000 years ago. According to the marketing arm of the UK’s wine industry, as of 2016 there were 503 commercial vineyards and 133 wineries throughout England and Wales. In 2015, these facilities — which have a total hectarage of over 2,000 hectares under vine — collectively produced an estimated 5.06 million bottles of wine.
You will never be far away from a vineyard or winery when in England either. There are 13 wine producing regions in Mercia, seven in East Anglia, another seven in the South West, six in the South East, five in the Thames & Chilterns area and four in Wessex.
Julia Trustram Eve, of English Wine Producers, commented: “If you compare us as a wine-producing nation to most other regions in the world, we’re miniscule. But if you look at our rate of growth, we’ve more than doubled our hectarage in the last 10 years.”
There’s plenty of variety when it comes to the styles of wine produced in English and Welsh vineyards and wineries too, with approximately 66 per cent sparkling wine, 24 per cent still white wine and the remaining ten per cent red or rosé wine.
Further variety is seen when looking at the top ten grape varieties planted, which is based on 1,532 hectares of vineyards analysed:
- Chardonnay, 23% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 353.37 hectares.
- Pinot Noir, 22% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 323.14 hectares.
- Bacchus, 8% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 128.52 hectares.
- Seyval, 6% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 88.31 hectares.
- Pinot Meunier, 5% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 76.65 hectares.
- Reichensteiner, 5% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 72.35 hectares.
- Rondo, 3% of total production; a total area in commercial production of 48.24 hectares.
- Muller Thurgau, 3% of total production across a total area in commercial production of 45.94 hectares.
- Madeleine Angevine, 3% of total production across a total area in commercial production of 39.34 hectares.
- Ortega, 2% of total production across a total area in commercial production of 35.48 hectares.
English Wine Producers has also claimed that a million vines are being planted across England and Wales in 2017, which will make it the largest planting achieved in a single year.
The changing face of England’s wine scene
As well as celebrating the success of the English wine industry, it is also important to make note of a major change that intends to move the industry forward both on domestic and international shores.
England’s wine industry was recently voted for by both The United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA) and English Wine Producers (EWP) for the two bodies to be merged into one single-industry representative body. Named UK Wine Producers (UKWP), this organisation will now be tasked with promoting, representing and supporting every wine producer and vineyard found across the UK.
Simon Robinson, the Hattingley Valley owner who has been named chair of the UKWP, pointed out to Horticulture Week: “We can now speak with a single voice, and can consult with a single membership, making it clearer to Government what the industry thinks.”
“The big issue now for us is Brexit. We want assurances that there will be no constraints on planting. In large parts of Europe, you can’t plant a new vineyard unless you take one out. We aren’t scouting for government support for production but would like support for sales and marketing, especially overseas, as other wine-producing countries do.”
English vineyards continue to grow in popularity and one such favourite is Ridgeview. As Tamara Roberts, CEO at Ridgeview explains, “At Ridgeview, we are very proud of our family’s part in the creation of the English sparkling wine industry. When my parents came up with the idea of producing a world class English sparkling wine on the South Downs, the idea was seen was viewed with a lot of scepticism. Twenty years on, Ridgeview sparkling wines are served in Michelin starred restaurants around the world, at Royal occasions, at Number 10 Downing Street and have received global trophies, beating some of best sparkling wines in the world.”
“The fact that there are so many new producers investing in the market, including Tattinger planting in the Kent, is very flattering and a testament to our pioneering vision. There is no doubt now that English sparkling can stand alongside some of the very best wine regions in the world.”
“We are really excited about the future and all the new opportunities such as wine tourism and the continuing prospects in national and international markets. No longer do top English restaurants list just include English sparkling wines as a token gesture, the lists are now led with pride from a number of award winning English producers and long may this continue around the globe. At Ridgeview, we are currently planning for our future investment in order for us to double production over the next five years, in order to keep up with current demand. We are also continuing to invest in tourism opportunities and industry initiatives that will help establish our wider wine regions to an international audience,” concludes Tamara.
Fellow FBU member Bolney Wine Estate are equally proud of their involvement in the blossoming English Wine Market. As Managing Director Sam Bolney explains, “As one of the longest-established vineyards in the UK, we have been thrilled to see the English wine industry go from an uncertain beginning, to the strong footing it has in the wine world today. We have been on the scene for forty-five years and 2017 was a record-breaking year for us with six gold medals and four trophies won for our wines across a range of prestigious competitions.”
We look forward to seeing the continuing growth of the sector for many years to come.