A sparkling future
The amount of UK soil now dedicated to wine production has doubled in the past seven years. Last year England and Wales’s 470 vineyards produced over 6.3 million bottles and in the past 16 years we have produced more top-prize-winning sparkling wines than any other nation.
Our wine industry has a long and troubled history. Begun by the Romans, adopted by monastic orders in medieval times, it has had to survive the decline of Rome, the Dissolution and our notorious weather — the storms of 2012 ruined two thirds of the crop. But the English and Welsh wine industry is taking root and tasting success.
Our climate helps make English wine distinctive, according to Christopher White, general manager at Denbies, the UK’s largest wine producer.
“Classic English wines are mainly off-dry aromatic, but not exclusively. Our Cubitt Reserve Sparkling, for example, is an illustration of cool climate sparkling wine using traditional grape varieties, grown on chalky soil. We are also starting to produce some still wines from pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc — sceptics once questioned our ability to grow these grapes but we have shown it is possible.
“For the past two years, following the prolonged Indian summers, conditions have also enabled the production of a ‘sticky’ dessert-style wine made from the Ortega variety. These are wines with a style that could not be replicated elsewhere in the world.
“English wine has experienced tremendous growth over the past five years. Quality has improved and volumes have increased and we’re seeing much greater recognition for what we’re achieving. All major English supermarkets are now stocking English wine, which is something you wouldn’t have seen even five years ago.”
Given that sparkling wine dominates the market for English wine, it is natural that chardonnay and pinot noir grapes should be the varieties most widely cultivated in the UK. These are the grapes traditionally used to produce Champagne.
“Bacchus is the third most popular grape variety in the UK, as it offers a light, aromatic and crisp style synonymous with good white wine.”
Julia Trustram Eve, of industry representative body English Wine Producers, says: “Planting of these varieties has really taken off thanks to the growth in popularity of English sparkling wine. Pinot meunier is cultivated too, as it’s an important element in sparkling wines, albeit in smaller proportions.