15 May 2015
A Sparkling Future for English Wine Production
Record breaking production figures have been released recently for the 2014 harvest of English wines. The figures show production of the equivalent of 6.3 million bottles, representing an increase in volume of 42% over 2013 - itself a record breaking year. It is estimated by the English Wine Producers and UK Vineyards Association that at least two thirds of production is now sparkling wine, which would equate to 4 million bottles. The warm spring and summer weather of 2014 has given both quality and quantity of wine grapes.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (both used in the production of champagne) are now the most widely planted grape varieties, representing some 47% of all varieties grown in the UK and planting of these two has increased by over 230% in the last 8 years. Production of English sparkling wines has increased by over 150% in the last 5 years and further volumes are coming on stream each year from new plantings. The UK vineyard area has doubled in 7 years and is now more than 2000 hectares (4900 acres).
Production of still wine also continues to thrive, and the aromatic Bacchus is the third most widely planted variety. Whilst I have always been a fan and enthusiastic protagonist of English sparklers, I have been somewhat reticent when it comes to the still wines, whatever the colour. However, at a recent Trade and Press tasting held in London, not far from the Palace of Westminster, I tasted a number of Sussex wines which have changed my opinion. The Bacchus 2013 from Blackdown Ridge Vineyard was fragrant, fresh, dry and fruity, whilst a Pinot Gris (white) and Pinot Noir ( red), both from Bolney Estate, were outstanding - dry, fruity, well- balanced and very enjoyable.
My heart, though, is still taken by the sparkling wines and there are a good number in Sussex which are gaining well deserved recognition, both nationally and internationally. Nyetimber is now well known and Ridgeview sits alongside as one of the top wines of this county and this country.
Others which I particularly rate are Upperton, near Petworth (which I have talked of before in this column), Digby Fine English, Wiston Estate, Henners near Herstmonceux, Bluebell Vineyard, Bolney and Court Garden at Ditchling. Many of the wines from these estates have won prestigious awards in international competitions, which underlines the high quality being achieved by these wine-makers. Watch out for them in local wine merchants and restaurants and support these pioneers of a great English wine industry.