The English wine industry is booming. While in itself nothing new, the last few years has seen it welcome more vineyards, more wineries and more trade records, setting impressive new levels for production, sales and exports. Analysts predict substantial growth over the coming decade, and given the continued acclaim English wine is enjoying from all corners of the globe, it’s not hard to see why.
English Wine Week, taking place this week, Saturday 25th May until Sunday 2nd June, is a celebration of these successes, and a terrific chance to explore and learn more about this burgeoning wine region. From a Nyetimber English sparkling wine dinner at The Gherkin in London and free entry to Hanwell Wine Estate in Nottinghamshire, to specialist pairings at Chester’s Docket No.64 and tutored tastings at Essex’s Dedham Vale Vineyard, venues across the country will be taking part in the week’s activities, with plenty of opportunities to get to know English wine yourself, wherever you may be.
Could English wine one day rival the likes of Bordeaux or Piedmont? Experts are divided, but given its exploding popularity it might not be entirely beyond the realms of possibility. Here’s everything you need to know about one of the world’s most exciting wine regions.
What’s in a name?
There’s been a lot of confusion as to what to call wine made in England, particularly because it also includes wines made in Wales. The convenient catch-all ‘British wine’ is out, because that typically refers to (often maligned) wine simply made in Britain using imported grapes. Understandably, Welsh producers aren’t keen on being lumped under an England-focused moniker either.
Last year the UK Vineyard Association proposed the term ‘British fizz’ which is now in the pipeline for regulatory approval. The problem is, though, that many vineyards in England and Wales are starting to produce still wines as well as their more established sparkling counterparts, so the issue is still up for debate.
Crunching the numbers
According to WineGB, there are more than 520 commercial vineyards in the UK, and over 160 wineries. While many of these (76%, in fact) are concentrated in the south east of England in the Kent and Sussex areas, there are properties throughout the country, stretching up into Scotland.
The hectarage under vine has grown by 160% over the last 10 years and tripled since 2000. There are some 3,000 hectares of vines in the UK, with a further two million vines expected to be planted this year alone.
Production has skyrocketed in recent times, from 4.15 million bottles in 2016 to 15.6 million in 2018. Analysts expect that figure to rise to 40 million by 2040. Currently, around eight percent of all wine grown and produced in the UK is exported, although this is anticipated to grow to 30%-40% by 2040. Its primary export market is the USA, although English wine now reaches 40 different countries – up from 27 in 2017.
The UK’s grape varieties
Pinot Noir is the most popular grape grown in the UK, but only by a hair’s breadth, accounting for 29.7% of the country’s total hectarage, just ahead of 28.9% for Chardonnay. Pinot Meunier, Bacchus and Seyval Blanc follow with 11%, 6.9% and 4.2% respectively, and then Pinot Gris, Reichensteiner and Madeleine Angevine at around two percent each.
Sparkling wine is undoubtedly the UK’s most popular style, accounting for 69% of total bottles produced, although still red, white and rose wines are on the up as winemakers experiment with techniques and varieties. The UK’s first still Pinot Meunier, for example, was launched last month by Simpsons Wine in Kent.
An economic boon
Come 2040, wine produced in Great Britain could yield a potential value of some £350 million per annum. And that’s not taking into account other economic factors, such as employment and tourism. According to WineGB, there are currently 2,100 full-time employees involved in the English and Welsh wine industry, which is likely to grow to 30,000 by 2040.
Presently, most visitors to vineyards and wineries in England and Wales are from the UK (86%, in fact), but research shows that international tourism is set to grow, and potentially at a very rapid pace. Wine-related tourism in Oregon in the USA, for example, grew swiftly by 167% between 2013 and 2016. Analysts suggest that, with the right activity in key markets and the proper support from government, wine tourism in the UK could generate an additional revenue of £658 million a year by 2040.