Wine trade in the United Kingdom has progressed over the years. Wine producers are becoming more experienced in the business of making wine, more vineyards are springing up around the country, despite the notoriously cold British weather. Granted, climate change has made weather conditions unpredictable for producers around the world, as was mentioned by our resident Chef, Tim McKirdy in a recent article about how climate change affected Argentina's 2016 yield, but the British are experiencing higher temperatures in summer months which might produce even better vintages in the future, all good reasons for taking English wines seriously.
The Romans were probably the first to introduce vines and wine-making but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that wine-making really took off. It all started when the wealthy land owner Eleanor of Aquitaine from France married Henry Count of Anjou, future king of England. Eleanor inherited quite a considerable amount of vineyards, all of which became British territory once Henry was crowned King. Bordeaux wine, up until this time, was hardly being exported, but with the marriage alliance, the wine trade flourished between the two countries. Wine producers in those days might not have produced such high quality wine as they do today, but the taste for wine and the desire to make it had developed.
English wine has come a long way and become internationally appealing along with the country's wine growers who are becoming more serious about the quality. According to English Wine Producers (EWP), an association set up with the aim to promote English wines and vineyards, today some 500 vineyards exist in England and Wales. They cover a total of 4,500 acres, and they produce mostly sparking and white wine.
EWP says that, over 50% of grape varieties planted are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Ten years ago, they accounted for less than a quarter of the plantings back then. Stuart Smith is one of Britain’s hard-working, dedicated wine producers. He has been in the business of supplying vines and making good quality wine for over ten years from Ryedale Vineyard in Yorkshire, in the North of England around 130 miles from the border with Scotland. Temperatures here are a lot cooler than in Bordeaux but despite this, Stuart grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with earlier ripening varieties. Stretching over 10 acres, this is the most northerly commercial vineyard in England, not a problem for this dedicated wine producer. He says optimistically “Although we are the furthest north, we can still ripen grapes and produce delicious wine.”
From importing vines from France and Germany, the family-run business makes and bottles wine from grapes grown in their very own region. For Stuart, producing good wine starts in the vineyard, good cultivation of the grapevine. He says, "many of the vines are disease resistant, in keeping with our low spray approach". His expertise and dedication to quality is recognized in the U.K as well as internationally. Wines from Ryedale Vineyards won two bronze medals at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in 2015, and again in 2016 for rosé and sparkling white wine.” IWC is one of the most rigorous international wine competition where each medal-winning wine is tasted on three separate occasions by at least 10 different judges. (Stuart Smith at Work, Left)
EWP realizes that raising national awareness is vital. This’s year’s English Wine Week held in May allowed wineries and vineyards the perfect chance to promote their home-grown wines by opening their cellar doors to the public. Retail outlets were also involved in the celebrations, supermarkets, wine merchants, hotels, restaurants and bars also organized events. Pleased with the results, Julia Trustram Eve, marketing manager of EWP, said that English Wines have “really captured people’s attention” and that “producers were much more proactive both collectively and individually.” She said: “over the last ten years English wines have experienced exponential growth, with acreage planted doubling, which has also led to a growth in wine production.”
Average production now averages over 5 million bottles per annum compared to less than 3 million around 2011. EWP are predicting that production will double again by 2020. "Has climate change had a positive effect on English wines?" Julia said. Global warming has undoubtedly played a part in the development and growth of the English wine industry. The classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier could not have thrived as they do now. Additionally our harvests are a little earlier, which again, creates better conditions and mitigates some of the risk that late harvesting brings in a cool climate such as ours.
Career and progression opportunities for those seeking academic qualifications are also possible. One establishment, Plumpton College, regarded a center of excellence for education, training and research in wine, offers courses in both wine production and wine business courses. The purpose-built facility manages 10 hectares of vineyard and makes 30,000 bottles of wine every year. The establishment also includes a commercial winery, a research winery, 3 laboratories, a wine evaluation room and a vintner’s room. As experts discuss climate and weather, wine growers realize that there will be good and bad years, threats and challenges are bound to come but for now they are grabbing the opportunities. As viticulture, enology, oenology and lab studies become available, the quality of wines in English regions will undoubtably increase as well.