It’s English Wine Week this week, with a variety of events taking place across the country at retail outlets, hotels, restaurants and vineyards to mark the occasion.
Between rapidly rising demand and increasingly favourable growing conditions, there has never been a better time to celebrate the flourishing English wine industry. And with the referendum on EU membership looming ahead, it seems a good time to examine our position within the market.
‘This is a truly exciting time for English wine – our vineyards are rapidly expanding with more people than ever before enjoying our finest English bubbly… helping [to] power our growing economy’, said the Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, last year.
English fine wine production
Since then, production and demand have increased exponentially – 2014 saw the production of 6.3m bottles, with the figure set to double by 2020. There are now 502 commercial vineyards in England and Wales, the majority being in South West England, with over 2000ha under vine.
Interest in English wine outside of the UK is also on the up, and “the export market [is] growing in importance”, according to Julia Trustram Eve, Marketing Director at English Wine Producers. English wine is now exported to 14 different countries and export markets are growing year on year.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Bacchus are the most planted grape varieties, and sparkling wine accounts for over two thirds of total UK wine production.
A new home for fine Champagne?
But it’s the quality of our sparkling wine that’s really put England on the fine wine map of the world, as English wine industry consultant Stephen Skelton MW told an audience of 600 at the ninth International Cool Climate Wine Symposium, held this year in Brighton.
‘Britain is famous for its fruit – strawberries, apples, blackcurrants – and rightly so; it cannot be beaten. We have great acidity from our cool climate and great physiological ripeness from our long growing season. And that’s the same for our grapes.’
The similarity of southern English terroir to the revered chalky soils of Champagne is cited as one reason why British producers should start pricing their wines at a level that is more indicative of their increasingly high quality.
‘I don’t think in any way English sparkling wines are overpriced,’ said Skelton. ‘In fact I think many of them are undercharging for what is a very high-quality product.’
He agreed that not all sparkling wine was on par with Champagne in terms of quality, but that the patriotism of British drinkers would be a key factor in the long-term success of the industry.
“If you take Cava or Prosecco to someone’s house they are not going to thank you very much,” said Skelton. “If you take English sparkling wine, then people know what it cost and they will appreciate the quality. The Brits are very patriotic – we joke that anything that is not French is good – so I’m confident that people will buy local.”
English fine wine for sale
If you’re still not convinced, pop over to an English Wine Week event near you and sample some of the native nectar this week! The Telegraph have compiled a useful list of top events across the country, and the English Wine Producers website contains details of all events as well as a wealth of industry-related information. Enjoy!