British wine producers will plant a record 1m vines over the next 12 months, allowing growers to produce 2m more bottles of wine a year in the south of a country not historically known for its viticulture.
The figures demonstrate that wine is one of the fastest-growing agricultural products in the UK. Over the last 10 years the number of acres planted with grapevines in England and Wales has grown by 135%, according to the English Wine Producers trade body.
Among those planting new rootstocks are two big French champagne houses, Taittinger and Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which have announced English wine projects in the past year in Canterbury and Hampshire.
Rathfinny wine estate near Alfriston in East Sussex is one of the largest new vineyards, with up to 400 acres being cultivated. Its owner, the former London hedge fund manager Mark Driver, plans to release its first sparkling wine in 2018. A French winemaker who trained at champagne houses Louis Roederer and Moët & Chandon is overseeing the blend.
“The French finally admit they like our wines,” said Oz Clarke, an expert who is helping to judge a new award for British wine. “New York decides that English bubbles are the next big cool wine ‘thing’. And we are planting a million new vines in our nation this year. We are bubbling with confidence.”
Global warming has been credited with providing a later English growing season and making the industry viable across Kent, the east of England and as far west as Wales. Improving technology is another key factor. Sophisticated meters that determine grape sugar levels allow growers to determine the best picking period in what can be a few brief days to harvest the crop. More precise meteorological forecasts have also helped the English to cope with one of the world’s most changeable weather systems.
A shift to buying more expensive vintages has also encouraged consumers to trade up to English wines, which typically start at £10 a bottle, although the top sparklers such as Nyetimber, made in West Sussex, retail for about £35.
Sales of domestically grown wine have been on an upward swing since 2000, with Waitrose and Marks & Spencer now offering dozens of different English and Welsh wines, and top retailers and restaurants stocking more and more lines.
In recognition, the industry has launched a competition to celebrate England and Wales’s wine producers, and to crown the UK’s very best wine.
Wines from English and Welsh producers will be tasted blind by the judges over two days, with the results announced on 31 May.
Rebecca Hull, the English wine buyer at Waitrose and one of the prize judges, said demand for domestic wine had been growing for many years and that she expected the trend to continue.
“These wines are world class and the awards will serve to highlight some of the gems produced on our own doorstep,” she said.
Harvey Nichols is introducing four new producers and 15 new English wines to its wine shop shelves in time for English wine week at the end of May. The bottles from Gusbourne, Hattingley Valley, Litmus and Wiston include still wines for the first time.
“Sales have been steadily increasing since 2011, but in 2016 we saw a peak in interest,” said Rob Graves, the head of wine and food buying at the upmarket retailer. “Our customers are hugely supportive of this category and they are keen to taste wines from lesser-known producers.”
Nick Jarman, the general manager at the Oxo Tower restaurant on the South Bank in London, said: “English wine is growing in popularity among our customers and we’ve seen a steady increase in sales over the last few years. We recently introduced two English wines by the glass which have performed well Often our customers are surprised that the quality is so excellent. We now list eight still wines and 13 sparkling, more than double than two years ago.”
UK wine industry to plant 1m vines as sector bubbles with confidence – The Guardian