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The rise of English wine

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Readers of drinks industry press will have noticed the continued rise of English wine from obscurity to notoriety over the last few years, and in particular, over the last few months.

In December Champagne Taittinger bought 69 hectares of farmland in Kent, with the aim of producing 300,000 bottles of English sparkling wine a year; last month Norfolk-based Flint Vineyard received a £23k fund to research one of the most prevalent cool-climate grape varieties, Bacchus, in order to cultivate it more efficiently; and just a few weeks ago, Bolney Wine Estate, one of the earliest vineyards to become established in the UK, announced its intention to invest £1m in a new winery at its Sussex site as it expands production.

Bumper harvests

After bumper harvests in 2013 and 2014, it seemed as though English wineries had quenched the world’s newfound thirst for English wine, producing 10.8m bottles of wine in total from both harvests. However, 2015 was a record-breaking vintage – the biggest any English winery has seen – and sales increased accordingly. Elizabeth Kelly, Wine Buyer for UK-based multiple retailer M&S told the Drinks Business in December that sales of Chapel Down’s English Sparkling Brut and Brut Rose had risen by 300% and “to meet demand,[at M&S] we have more than doubled our range of English and Welsh wines from 8 to 20.” Similarly, English wine exports to international markets are still increasing. Julia Trustram Eve, Marketing Director of English Wine Producers expects that exports will form up to 30% of production across the UK over the next seven years.

It would seem that the only limiting factor regarding sales is production itself. However, recent years have seen production rising to meet demand. Miles Beale, Chief Executive of WSTA, has summarised the growth of English wine production:

The production of English wine has seen record vintages in the last two years with 4.5m bottles in 2013 and 6.3m bottles in 2014. Based on the latest growth figures, this is set to double, with a staggering 12m bottles of English wine per year expected by 2020.


* Experts have also estimated that an additional 75,000 acres of land across the UK are prime for grape-growing – that’s equivalent to the Champagne region in France.

Challenging perceptions

With English wineries winning a record haul of medals at both national and international blind tasting competitions, it looks as though the quantity and quality of English wine are increasing hand in hand. Indeed most of the trade points to Ridgeview’s victory at the Decanter World Wine Awards in 2010, winning the Best Sparkling Wine Trophy – the first non-Champagne to win in the history of the award – as a key indicator of the shift in perception of English wine. Signs of success such as this seem to have motivated winemakers across the category and Charlie Holland, Winemaker at Gusbourne Estate told WSET Business Development Manager Mike Best, “We’ve all upped our game considerably” as UK-based winemakers have inspired each other to make “exceptional wines”. 

International Cool Climate Wine Symposium

English winemakers will again be in focus in May when the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium takes place in Brighton. The UK will be well-represented when cool-climate wine producers and industry representatives from all over the world gather to attend a programme of talks concerning climate, optimising fruit and wine quality, and styles of wine that can be produced. WSET is proud to be a sponsor of the symposium and Ian Harris, WSET Chief Executive, will be leading a session on educating the wine industry. 

For more details and to book your place on the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium 2016, visit


*2010 production 4.05m bottles; 2011production 3.02m bottles; 2012 production 1.03m bottles; 2013 production 4.45m bottles; 2014 production 6.3m bottles

(Data supplied by Wine Standards Branch, Food Standards Agency and based on data collected at post harvest each year)

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