This is the British wine industry – one of the smallest wine regions in the world but proving to be one of the most dynamic, sparking interest with wine experts and enthusiasts alike and gaining renown on the national and international stage.
Leading the charge are Britain’s ‘classic method’ sparkling wines, which have established the UK’s reputation for producing high quality wines, and make up two-thirds of the country’s total wine production. What makes a great sparkling wine? It needs to be fresh, crisp, delicate but complex enough to marry with the exquisite bubbles in the glass; Britain’s cool climate produces wines with a lively acidity and delicate fruit that lend themselves well to the sparkling wine process and give great ageing capability.
Most are produced by the same method as Champagne (for our wines we have coined the term ‘classic method’) and from the same varieties - (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Their finesse and longevity are proving their credentials year upon year on the world stage in blind tastings and competitions. Champagne houses are now investing in England - Taittinger in Kent and Vranken Pommery in Hampshire – proof of the confidence in this wine country and it's future. Cava producer Freixenet has purchased a sizeable vineyard operation in Sussex. Other overseas investors are looking on with interest. These wines are served at the highest tables. Just recently a Blanc de Blancs from Sussex producer Ridgeview was served at the first state banquet hosted by King Charles, in honour of the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa.
The success of these ‘classic method’ sparkling wines has largely contributed to the phenomenal growth in vineyard plantings, which has seen an impressive 70% increase in acreage planted in just 5 years and more than quadrupled since 2000. Viticulture is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the UK today; the UK boasts 879 vineyards and stretching over some 3750 hectares (just over 9000 acres). This is an industry that is going places.
Other styles of sparkling wine are also now produced – from lighter, fruitier Prosecco-style wines (produced by a different method to Champagne) giving a light, fruitier style to pet nats (Pétillant natural) and even canned wines – something for every occasion.
A recent study has shown that Pinot Noir has the capacity to produce quality red wine every bit as good as red Burgundy in the years to come.
The UK’s still wines are also well worth discovering. Grape varieties such as Bacchus and Pinot Gris as well as other aromatic and new varieties that thrive in Britain are producing styles of wines to delight the palate. The result is a wide range of styles from dry to medium dry whites, refreshing rosé, luscious dessert wines and fruity reds. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also producing some fine still wines and show a promising future.
A recent study has shown that Pinot Noir has the capacity to produce quality red wine every bit as good as red Burgundy in the years to come. The hotspot area for this? Essex. Watch this space. (The study is by Viticulture Climatologist, Dr Alistair Nesbitt)
English and Welsh wines are readily available through high street and independent retailers, restaurants and hotels that proudly promote and sell them. Sales have been booming in recent years as more wine lovers buy in to local wines.
There is of course the added advantage of buying direct from many of the producers via their own online sites or visiting them in person for a memorable shopping experience.
Over 200 vineyards across England and Wales welcome visitors, offering a range of experiences including tours, tastings and ‘cellar door’ shop. Guided tours are conducted by people who are knowledgeable and entertaining - in some smaller vineyards you may even get the owner or winemaker. Visitors will take away some great memories and new discoveries – and hopefully a bottle or two to enjoy at home.
You can even stay at a vineyard – from a hotel, self-catering properties to luxury shepherds’ huts, lodges, tents and even a ‘Hobbit House’. Many of the larger vineyards boast sophisticated visitor centres with fine dining, winemaker events, wedding and celebration parties, to name but a few.
And now vineyards have joined forces to promote their region, such as Wine Garden of England in Kent, Sussex Modern, Vineyards of the Surrey Hills and The Yorkshire Wine Trail, inviting you to immerse yourself in the wine, food and hospitality in their beautiful part of the country.
To make things even easier a number of tour operators organise visits to different wine regions in England, from bespoke luxury tours through to day trips, via e-bike or on foot. All in all, a perfect recipe for a wine staycation / experience.
So next time you are looking to buy wine, consider looking a little closer to home and toast to a Great British success story!
For more information on the British wine industry, visit www.winegb.co.uk. The website also lists the vineyards of Great Britain and provides plenty of background information on English and Welsh wines. There are now also a number of great books and guides for the wine enthusiast.