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UK to unseat Champagne wine production due to climate change, says study

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By Euronews  with AP
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 Rows of grape vines cover the valley and hillsides at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking on the outskirts of London, Wednesday April 21, 2004.
Rows of grape vines cover the valley and hillsides at Denbies Wine Estate in Dorking on the outskirts of London, Wednesday April 21, 2004.   -   Copyright  DAVE CAULKIN/AP

The UK could unseat top wine-producing regions Champagne and Burgundy in France due to the effects of climate change, according to a new study. 

The Climate Resilience in the UK Wine Sector study found that rising temperatures over the coming years could make Britain a major player in quality wine production.

Looking at climate projections, researchers said temperatures in the UK wine-growing regions may rise by 1.4°C by 2040 -- on top of the one degree rise since the 1980s. 

This will mean the amount of sugar in UK grapes would be more consistent with better wine quality and higher alcohol content, they said. 

"Production here in the UK has been able to produce sparkling wines that are of a style that are very similar to those produced in Champagne," said lead researcher Professor Stephen Dorling. 

"The climate has been helping more and more to match that French production," he added. 

Researchers noted that the best regions to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes -- two of the staples for Champagne making -- will shift northwards away from France. 

Quality still red wine could even become possible due to environmental projections, they said, calling this "a holy grail". 

"In this country, we've not been renowned for the production of still red wines, but the changing climate is providing a prospect for that," wrote Prof Doring. 

Previous studies have warned that climate change will create "unquantified risk[s]" for UK wine producers. 

"Climate change is likely to cause more extremes and hence further threaten the stability of production," they wrote in 2016. 

Prof Dorling called on UK winemakers to plant more vines to profit from the increased temperatures forecast over the next two decades.

"When we plant a grapevine, it has a lifetime of 20-30 years, so we need to make the right decision on what we're going to plant because it's going to be with us for a while," he said. 

In 2021, Vineyards covered around 3,800 hectares of land in the UK, according to the Climate Resilience in the UK Wine Sector study. 

This is an increase of nearly 400% on 2004 levels -- the year in which sparkling wine started to dominate production.

2018 was a bumper, record-breaking year for UK wine production. An atypical long hot summer saw Britain produce more than 15.6 million bottles for the first time.

A hotter summer and fewer diseases affecting the vines meant more crops and subsequently more wine. 

Between 2021-2040 the study is predicting the UK wine industry will have vintages as good as 2018 in 60-75 per cent of the seasons, making for a much more consistent end product.

The UK has much less land planted with vines compared to major wine-producing countries, meaning the industry tends towards the pursuit of quality over quantity.

It is unlikely British vineyards could ever produce sub-£10 (approx. $12) bottles for the supermarket shelves, notes AP. 

Euronews has previously reported that Brexit and Covid are creating challenges for the UK's sparkling wine industry, such as labour shortages, missing shipments and bureaucratic headaches.