The magnificent Rathfinny vineyards – one of England’s finest sparkling wines - on the chalky Sussex Downs just 3 miles from the English Channel
English Wine Week takes place from 17-25 June this year, so it is timely to coincide that with a look at our own home-grown wine industry and highlight some wines from the extensive selection in place at Vino Gusto. And look out for some to taste in the VG store in June.
You may be surprised by just how big and how fast the industry has grown. Here are some factual highlights:
- There are now 897 operating vineyards and 197 wineries – up from 281 and 120 respectively in the last 30 years
- 195 wineries are in England and 2 are in Wales (the majority are open to visitors by the way)
- 3,758 hectares are now under vine – and that is an increase of 70% in just the last 5 years
- 98% are in England but there are even small holdings now in Scotland and The Channel Islands
- The vast majority of plantings are located between the South East across the Southern Downs into the West Country, but vines are also found in East Anglia and as far north as Yorkshire
- Nearly 70% of production is Sparkling Wine centred on the chalk slopes of the South Downs
- Unsurprisingly given the skew to sparkling and “Champagne” styled production the largest plantings by grape variety are – top 5:
- Chardonnay 1,179ha
- Pinot Noir 1,164ha
- Pinot Meunier 327ha – these three account for 82% of all plantings
- Bacchus 264ha
- Seyval Blanc 117ha
- Of still wines produced – 68% are white, 17% Rosé, and 14% Red
- Last year sales accounted for 9.3 million bottles of which 63% were Sparkling and 37% Still
- Exports account for 4% of sales – shipped to 30 different markets – with the top 5 being Norway, USA, Sweden, Japan, and Hong Kong
- Wine GB predicts production will reach 40 million bottles by 2040!
England’s Position and Potential in the World of Wine
The historical perspective on successful and consistent vine growing and winemaking has held that the best vineyard sites are located around the world between 30 and 50 degrees latitudes (north and south of the equator). This has put the UK on the very edge of that threshold. However, with global warming, the whole world wine map is shifting. As you will no doubt well remember we had the hottest ever temperatures recorded in the UK in the summer of 2022 and although it was unbearable for some, it was ideal for the vines.
Although England remains defined as a “marginal climate”, growing conditions are becoming more consistent, and producers are adapting to the topography of vineyards and microclimates on an ongoing basis, so the picture does indeed look bright. And as I am sure you know England is fast building a fine reputation for sparkling wines in particular – so much so that two Champagne house have directly invested in English vineyards.
One of the reasons for this is the South Downs (especially) have almost identical soils type and structure (by that chalk based) as the Champagne region itself. And the climate is not that dissimilar these days – so a recipe for success with the appropriate winemaking skills applied.
And this is why Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and (Pinot) Meunier – the classic Champagne grapes - feature so heavily in the mix of English plantations.
Regarding still wines – and because of England’s marginal climate (like other similar temperature areas) - the planting skew will always favour white varieties over red. This is because all white varieties ripen quicker than black grape varieties. And the good news is that the variety Pinot Noir also happens to have one of the shorter ripening seasons of all black varieties, so there is potential here too for England to become home, in time, to some serious still red Pinot Noir as well as the basis for blending to make high quality bottle fermented sparkling wine. And the same applies to Chardonnay for still white wines. For the moment a lot of producers are understandably majoring on fruity, aromatic and early ripening white varieties like Bacchus which can be highly enjoyable.
So, maybe, the time is right to (re)look at English wines in a new light, and the wine week should be the moment to celebrate what England is doing and what is might also go on further to do achieve. I have selected what I hope is a nice mix from the Vino Gusto selection, but you can find all Anglo offerings, here!
Flint Vineyards Norfolk
A quartet of different style starting with two sparklers – the Flint Charmat Rosé is a vibrant and fruity pink tank fermented sparkler which is just spot on; the Rathfinny Classic Cuvée is one of England’s finest bottle fermented sparklers very much challenging the Champagne style and quality.
Then an aromatic and fruity still white with a lovely crispness and vitality from Davenport and finish back again with Flint and their delicate and perfumed (and lightly oaked) Pinot Noir Précoce which you can cool down to serve in the new summer month.
Cheers, and here’s to summer and English wine!
Nick says, “I am looking forward to working even more closely with Jake and the team at Vino Gusto. I hope to bring my broad trade experience into play to keep you informed and entertained via these monthly blog releases. Please do though let us know of any subject matters which might be of special interest to you, and we will see if can get these included over the coming months”.