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Cheers to homegrown

It is fair to say that when people think of fizz, their minds will probably turn to France for Champagne, Italy for Prosecco or Spain for Cava. For most, England has no place in the fizz equation. The same holds true for England’s increasingly diverse still wine offer. Yet the industry is burgeoning and the future is looking rosy. Here, specialist wine insurance provider Lycetts explains why England’s wine scene is cause for celebration.

VineyardAnalysis by online business finance supermarket Funding Options has found that independent English wine producers increased their turnover to a record high of £131.9 million in 2015/16. This is a 16% rise on the £113.8 million turnover recorded in 2014/15, as well as a considerable jump from the £55.7 million recorded just five years ago (2010/11). 

Helping with this growth, new statistics from HMRC show that 64 new wine producers obtained a licence for wine production in 2016 – yet another record for the English wine industry. 

Conrad Ford, founder of Funding Options, comments: “English wine is going from strength to strength. Not only is the English wine industry gaining traction among domestic consumers, but it is now being ranked with wines from traditional white wine-producing countries such as France and Germany.” 

Best in the world – it’s official

Drinking WineAnother boost for the English wine industry has been the fact that the country is now home to award-winning drinks that beat off international competition. 

In May 2017, Winbirri Vineyards’ Bacchus 2015 wine was honoured as the world’s best white wine, picking up the Platinum Best in Show prize at the Decanter World Wine Awards. The Norfolk-based wine beat off competition from some 17,200 other entries and received a score of 95 out of 100 by a panel of 200 experts from across the globe. 

There have been many other prestigious award wins for English wine over the years. In 2010, both the Camel Valley winery in Cornwall and Nyetimber in West Sussex were recognised at the 2010 International Wine Challenge – the former for its 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé Brut and the latter with its 2001 Blanc de Blancs. 

Last year, East Sussex-based Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard’s 2015 Regent Rosé was awarded the only ‘Top Gold’ medal at the 2016 International Organic Wine Awards. 

Changing times

Until recently, two bodies – The United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA) and English Wine Producers (EWP) – represented the industry. Today the two bodies have been merged into one single-industry representative body. Named UK Wine Producers (UKWP), this organisation will now be tasked with promoting, representing and supporting every wine producer and vineyard in the UK. 

Simon Robinson, the Hattingley Valley owner who has been named chair of the UKWP, comments: “The big issue now for us is Brexit. We want assurances that there will be no constraints on planting. In large parts of Europe, you can’t plant a new vineyard unless you take one out. We aren’t scouting for government support for production, but would like support for sales and marketing, especially overseas, as other wine-producing countries do.” 

In praise of English fizz 
“You can feel the excitement in vineyards across south-east England as we approach another festive season,” says Jeremy Dunn, Chief Wine Tutor, Norfolk Wine School (www.norfolkwineschool.com). 

“The UK is the world’s biggest market for Champagne but fizz-savvy consumers and on-trade outlets looking to stand out from the crowd are increasingly switching to home-grown Sparkling Wine. 

“English Fizz has been toasting its success in tasting competitions vs Champagne for many years. Last year the British Wine and Spirit Trade Association went to France and invited some of the biggest names in the Gallic bar and restaurant trade to a blind tasting of English Fizz vs Champagne. An English Fizz, Nyetimber 2009, from West Sussex, £40, was voted to be better than a £65 bottle of Grand Cru Champagne and many of the judges were convinced that numerous English wines came from fine French terroir.” 

Even the French are now recognising that our chalky soils and our warming climate are capable of producing world-class sparkling wines. In May this year, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (president of the eponymous Champagne house) planted his first vines on English soil in Chilham, Kent. The first bottles should be ready to drink in 2023, after three years of aging in the bottle. 

Even without the French contribution, English fizz is on the up and up. “HMRC figures show that during the last financial year (2016-17), over 350,000 more bottles of English sparkling wine were released on to the UK market than in the previous year, a rise of about 25%,” says Dan Harwood, Head of Wine Education for Halewood Wines and Spirits. 

Did you know?

VineyardOne million vines are set to be planted in the UK this year – the largest number ever planted in a single year in the UK 

This year’s vine planting will yield another two million bottles of mainly sparkling wine, adding an estimated £50m to the industry.

Wine production is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the UK. In the last ten years the acreage planted with grapevines has grown by 135%. Since 2000, acreage has nearly tripled 

Around 5 million bottles of English and Welsh wine are produced every year. This figure is set to double in the next five years and continue to grow well beyond.

There are currently over 500 vineyards and 135 wineries in the UK 

All English and Welsh sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, just like Champagne.

Still wines from the UK are often made from lesser-known grape varieties that are suited to the cool climate of the UK, such as Bacchus (similar to Sauvignon Blanc), Madeleine Angevine, Rondo and Shönburger 

The most widely planted grape in the UK is Chardonnay, followed by Pinot Noir.

English wine is exported to around 27 countries worldwide, this number having grown by a third in over the last year alone 

Sparkling wine accounts for around two-thirds of all English wine produced, still white for 24% and still red/rosé for 10%.

You can visit over 100 vineyards in the UK.

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