The sene almost looks like France or even Italy – vineyards rolling almost as far as the eye can see – but in fact these 265 acres of vineyards are in England, just 20 miles west of London. Traditionally this part of the world has been considered too cold for serious wine growing, but these vineyards are planted with 15 different grape varieties and with better growing techniques and warmer weather, they are all thriving.
And the same is true for vineyards all across the country: thanks to warm and dry weather during the flowering period, it seems that British wine producers will be rewarded this year with the largest ever annual crop of grapes, and the ninth decent vintage in succession. In the past however, English vineyards only produced a good harvest once or twice in a decade, necessitating the addition of vast quantities of sugar to make even a poor quality wine.
Says Marcus Sharp, of Denbies Wine Estate: “It’s a really good harvest, ripe fruit and lots of it. General ripeness has been improving, volumes have been going up, sugar levels have been going up and acids have been sort of down. We’re making more wine each year, this year I don’t know, maybe four-five hundred thousand bottles.”
But some experts say that this is just the beginning of the English wine revolution. British viticulture could soon change beyond recognition if temperatures rise as predicted: experts are suggesting an increase of between two and five degrees in Southern England and around two degrees in Scotland.
Says Richard Selley, a professor at Imperial College, London: “Large parts of southern England will be too hot for making wine. By 2080 it’s quite likely there could be vineyards across the marshes of Scottish Highlands, the Côte d’Ecosse, as it may be called. And I’ve always fantasised about vineyards on the north shore of Loch Ness, which may become terraced and suitable for Riesling, Schönberger and other Germanic grape varieties.”
Professor Selley, author of a study on the Past, Present and Future of English Winelands, mapped the advance and retreat of vineyards in Britain from Roman times to the present day.
He says, “Well, about 50 years ago there were very few vineyards indeed in this country and the number has been increasing very dramatically since the middle of the last century and we can see also, through time, how the northern limit of modern vineyards has advanced towards the English-Scottish frontier.”
The numbers of officially registered UK vineyards increase all the time: from 333 in 2002, to 416 last year. The area under vine cultivation has risen dramatically as well: from 812 to 1,106 hectares in the same period.
Says Chistopher White, Denbies General Manager: “We’ve seen the effects of global warming here. So what we’ve decided to do over the last few years is to experiment with new varieties which have never been grown here before in the Uk like Sauvingon Blanc. We took a real risk 20 years ago planting Pinot Noir, but it’s been one of our best producers. The quality of the sparkling wine we can produce in the UK now is very very high. We’re into international awards and we’re winning gold awards internationally: which was unheard of 20 years ago.”
British wine lovers seem to appreciate homegrown wine. Over the last 10 years annual sales have almost doubled. British wine production is around 3 million bottles a year – peanuts when compared to say Italian annual production of 4.7 billion litres, but global warming could change the geography of European wine production, opening doors to new players.
For more information about Denbies, see:
For more information about Professor Selley see: