Why we should be very proud of British Wine
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
I have to admit a vested interest, as I am an immense fan of what is happening to the wine growing industry in this country, and I have planted vineyards and made sparkling wine here.
Brexit and politics aside, it is true to say that the growth of English and Welsh Wine production is hugely exciting. I call it British Wine as there are now 176 vineyards in Wales, so whilst there are 600 vineyards in England, it would be wrong to call our countries production English only.
The truth is that with a recent period of warm summers it is possible to grow all the top grape varietals grown in northern Europe, and get the fruit ripe, and make extremely high quality. This is nothing new!
There have been two previous periods of warm weather in Britain, firstly at the time of the Roman conquest from between 50AD to 400AD, when they were able to successfully grow wine making grapes right up to Hadrian's Wall in order to supply their troops. The second period of warm weather was around the time of the Norman Conquest 1066, when French Monasteries widely planted vineyards, but mainly in the South of England.
The greatest recent success has been our production of excellent sparkling wines. These account for two thirds of the approximately 12 million bottles of wine now being produced here. In some ways this is not surprising, we are at a similar latitude to Champagne, although a bit damper, but paradoxically that may be a long term advantage, as the Champagne region has been suffering from too warm and dry periods!
We are also on not too dissimilar soils, particularly the Chalk Downlands of Sussex and Kent, which in parts is the same geological structure. It also happens to have been claimed that the English were the first to discover the way to create a secondary fermentation in bottle, hence the sparkling wines, rather than the Monk from Rheims Dom Perignon, although that sounds a bit like overspun nationalism.
The reason British sparkling wines have been so successful is one of pure quality, and on many occasions when there have been comparative tastings our sparkling wines have beat the best in the World. I recently tasted the sparkling wine from Windsor Great Park, inspired by the late Prince Philip, and planted on a site first planted by Henry the fourth. It is quite excellent, but the limited production has soon run out, as it is served in Windsor Castle and the Great Park Farm Shop in Old Windsor.
Indeed, The Royals have rightly been very supportive of the industry and the best English Sparkling Wines are often served at Royal Weddings and other functions. The Prince of Wales has recently given his Royal Warrant to the delicious Camel Valley, grown in Cornwall.
The Diplomatic Corps are also hugely supportive, and our Sparkling Wine is often served in Embassies all around the World.
Our British wines are not cheap. And the quality stands up to the pricing generally, but when one thinks of the investment to plant a new vineyard, to build a winery, to mature stock for several years, and that generally demand is such that producers can sell all they produce, it is understandable.
Furthermore, there are no Government subsidies over and above normal agriculture and we pay the same duty tax as imported wine. I believe there is a strong argument for more help and support from Government . Afterall, British wine is employing a lot of people, generating good tax incomes, and now 10% of production is exported. It is also environmentally friendly, local and something we can all be proud of.
I haven't mentioned still wines, where there has been huge progress recently with new varietals and a better understanding of vineyard techniques. I particularly like a varietal of white grape, a cross between Riesling Sylvanner and Muller Thurgau, called Bacchus appropriately. It seems to work particularly well in this country. But the reds and rose wines are getting better every year.
I would seriously urge you to try some of our excellent locally produced wines, which are now widely available. Try whilst stocks last!!
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Christopher Burr, MW,
30th June 2021