English wine is booming – we are at last discovering the quality of wines from our shores. The month of May is medal-awards time for the wine industry, and the highly influential Decanter Magazine and International Wine Challenge competitions in 2016 gave their highest ever number of golds, silvers and bronzes to English wines. Many of the winning wines are from the outstanding 2014 vintage, when a long, warm autumn ripened to perfection the vast quantities of fruit set by the benevolent sunshine of spring.
This increase in the quality and amount of English wine now available is not an overnight phenomenon. The area under vine has been increasing steadily over the last 20 years and there are now over 500 vineyards, covering 4500 acres, and producing five million bottles a year. Motivated in part by the successful 2014 vintage, many more vineyards have recently been planted or planned and it is estimated that wine production will double to 10 million bottles a year by 2020. However, the wine from these vineyards will not be cheap and cheerful, everyday plonk, it will mostly be premium quality sparkling wines made in the champagne method – and probably sold at a champagne price. As our friend in the pub says “English wine – what’s not to like?”
Well quantity and cost give us occasional concern. England is marginal for vinegrowing, weather is variable, and while 2014 was an excellent year, 2012 was a complete washout, with very little wine produced at all, while 2013 was so-so; 2015 was reasonable. 2016 wines are just becoming available, and although quality is likely to be as good as 2014, quantiy is down which means costs may be higher. As for 2017, the late frost that scorched our magnolia and apple blossom also damaged a lot of the new buds on the vines.
In late April, the UK, like most of Northern Europe, was hit by unusually low temperatures and the resulting frost, was the worst in over 20 years. After a mild winter and early spring, many of the vines were about 2-3 weeks ahead in growth, which made them more susceptible to damage from frost. The three nights of frost culminated on 27 April with a drop in temperature down to -6 at 4am. Many vignerons (like Alison Nightingale pictured here) had several sleepless nights placing and lighting “Bougies” which are similar in size to large paint pots and can help to avoid ground frosts. However, this year significant damage was caused by air frost. Initially, many vineyards predicted that yields would be down by 75%.
We are now in July, and the signs are that secondary shoots are developing well, which is causing some vineyards to estimate that yields will be down between 20 – 40%. Time will tell, and much will depend on the next crucial months in the run up to the harvest in October, but it is likely that quantity will be down and that this could have cost implications.
It also takes a long time to make and sell wine from the grapes of a new vineyard. Wine cannot be made from a vine that is less than 3 years old, and the new wine will need ageing for anything from 6 months to 4 years before it can be sold, depending on whether it is still or sparkling. The award-winning wines from 2014 are mostly produced form vines planted before 2007, while vines planted today might be winning medals in 2025. That’s a long time to tie-up your capital!
So, before you plant that vineyard remember that English wine accounts for just 1% of total UK wine sales, and that tastes in wine can change. The late 20th century love affair with New World wines that almost eclipsed the classic European wines for a while, is a case in point, and both India and China are making wines that are causing heads to turn in the wine trade.
But English wines are very much in vogue, with 2 major Champagne houses investing in UK vineyards while exports, particularly to the USA are rising. Overall the outlook is good for cool climate, English wines as they can offer delicously fresh and full-flavoured wine, with lower alcohol levels. In our opinion, providing they remain competitive with similar cooler climate wine there will be a good market.
Above all they are home-grown so let’s “Think English; Drink English”; check out our amazing selection of English Wines in the Wine Shop – Sparkling Wines, White & Rose Wines.