England: A Peek into Wine Regions
A premium wine-producing region – England
With around 500 vineyards in England and Wales covering some 4,500 acres and producing sparkling and still wines, English and Welsh wines have been winning many prestigious awards. For centuries, the English were fully committed to drinking wine (as of 2014, the UK ranks 6th in the world for overall wine consumption), but producing in limited amounts. Over the past decade this has changed dramatically. England is an exciting new force in the wine world, producing world class bubbles, winning awards and, for the first time, beating major Champagne houses in competitions and earning well-deserved recognition across the globe. Although some still wines are made, it is the traditional method sparkling that consistently captures people’s attention and also represents the majority of English wine production at over 65% of all wine made.
- Vineyards: 3550 acres / 1438 hectares (2012)
- Number of wineries: 128 (2012)
- First Vineyard: Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire, established in 1951
- Production: 84% Sparkling and White Wine, 16% Red
England sees a lot of rain. However, in the south, where most of their viticulture is centered, the climate remains slightly drier and warmer. With global warming affecting regions in today’s context, the average annual temperatures are on the rise, the issues with grapes ripening that have long plagued England’s vintners may soon become a thing of the past. For now, the best regions for winemaking are along Southern England, along its coast, where they share similar climates, soil types that are suitable for a number of grape varieties.
Whether or not vines were grown and wine made in Britain before the arrival of the Romans is open to debate as there are no reliable records pointing one way or the other. Wine amphorae, dating from before the Roman conquest, have been discovered on sites in southern England, which could indicate that wine drinking was prevalent. This was probably adopted by the Belgae, who had established themselves in the east and south of Britain prior to the Roman invasion, and who had a liking for wine. The native Celts seem to have preferred beer and mead, which used local indigenous ingredients. Archaeological discoveries from that time include a 4′ high Roman amphora and a silver wine cup, both recovered from the British tombs of Belgic Chieftains of the 1st Century BC. Strong trading links with France and Italy allowed wine to be imported relatively easily and it would therefore seem unlikely that there was any need to establish vineyards in this country.
Romans then brought their viticulture to every new land they conquered, and its not different for England. After the fall of their empire, Christian monastries maintained vineyards for use in the Sacrament. Through the 1700s to the 20th century, there were very few individuals who dabbled in winemaker. It was until post World War II in the 1950s that the interest in commercial viticulture in England was rekindled.
2015 was a big year for the English wine industry. The Decanter World Wine Awards saw English sparkling pick up 130 medals, as reported by the publication. Pioneering houses such as Nyetimber, Chapel Downs, Ridgeview, Denbie’s and Gusborne were among the winners. The best of the bunch also earned over a dozen gold medals at the International Wine Challenge.
Chapel Down in Kent has also produced England’s first Albarino. 2016 marked the first year English producers maintained a significant presence at Prowein, the international wine and spirits trade fair based in Germany.
Theres no limits to this country’s potential as we await their exponential growth, with more fantastic wines to come!