Analysing the current English wine scene

It wasn’t too many months ago that English winemakers had sent out the warning that the air frost, which had spread across the country following a warm start to 2017, had caused “catastrophic” damage to buds which had bloomed earlier than usual. Fast forward to the end of the year, and the English wine industry is now going through a glorious period, highlighted by a new study which suggested that the sector is now worth in excess of £130 million.

Here, expert wine insurance provider,Lycetts, explores just how glorious a period the English wine scene is currently witnessing…

How the English wine industry has grown

Independent English wine producers managed to increase their turnover to a record high of £131.9 million in 2015/16, data by online business finance supermarket Funding Options has revealed. 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).

In 2016, information released by HM Revenue and Customs also unveiled that 64 new wine producers had been successful in obtaining a licence for wine production. That’s yet another record for the English wine industry.

Conrad Ford, the founder of Funding Options, believes that statistics like those detailed above demonstrates that “English wine is going from strength to strength”. He added: “The English wine industry is not only gaining traction amongst domestic consumers, but is now being ranked with wines from traditional white wineproducing 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.”

Understanding the scope of England’s wine industry

Statistics from English Wine Producers clearly shows how the English wine scene is continuing to flourish. 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 won’t be far away from a vineyard or winery when in England now, 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, from English Wine Producers, pointed out: “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 ten years.”

There’s plenty of variety seen throughout England and Wales’ wineries and vineyards, too. Approximately 66 per cent produce 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:

  1. Chardonnay, which made up 23.06 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 353.37 hectares.
  2. Pinot Noir, which made up 22.01 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 323.14 hectares.
  3. Bacchus, which made up 8.39 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 128.52 hectares.
  4. Seyval, which made up 5.76 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 88.31 hectares.
  5. Pinot Meunier, which made up 5 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 76.65 hectares.
  6. Reichensteiner, which made up 4.72 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 72.35 hectares.
  7. Rondo, which made up 3.15 per cent of production; a total area in commercial production of 48.24 hectares.
  8. Muller Thurgau, which made up 3 per cent of production across a total area in commercial production of 45.94 hectares.
  9. Madeleine Angevine, which made up 2.57 per cent of production across a total area in commercial production of 39.34 hectares.
  10. Ortega, which made up 2.32 per cent of production across a total area in commercial production of 35.48 hectares.

In 2017, English Wine Producers also found that a million vines are being planted across England and Wales. This will make it the largest planting achieved in a single year.

Award-winning wine from England

A variety of award-winning wine can be found throughout England now too, with brands claiming theses honours by seeing off international competition.

Winbirri Vineyards’ Bacchus 2015 wine was named Platinum Best in Show at the Decanter World Wine Awards in May 2017, for instance — an honour which saw the drink becoming the world’s best white wine. 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.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association’s chief executive, Miles Beale, stated: “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 English wines which have collected prestigious awards in recent 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.

Good Life Farm Shop’s 2013 Blanc de Noirs wine was also awarded a Silver at the inaugural Independent English Wine Awards. 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.

An impending change for England’s wine industry

However, England’s wine scene will soon look quite a bit different. This is an alteration intended to move the industry forward both on domestic and international shores.

The change comes after a vote by both The United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA) and English Wine Producers (EWP), which saw the two bodies in favour of being merged to form a 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.

Speaking to Horticulture Week, Hattingley Valley’s owner and the newly appointed chair of the UKWP Simon Robinson acknowledged: “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.”