When someone says England, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Fish and Chips perhaps? London? The Queen? Warm Beer? Footy? All good. What about amazing wine? Perhaps not. Whilst English wine might seem like a relatively new concept, we have actually been making wine for centuries.
Winemaking is believed to have been introduced to England by the Romans. However, it was around 1066 when the Normans arrived in England that viticulture saw a big expansion. The Domesday book of 1086 mentions that approximately 46 vineyards existed in England during this time. Wine production continued throughout the Middle ages to the 15th and 16th centuries, and by the time Henry VIII was crowned in 1509 there were roughly 139 vineyards in England and Wales. Although the quality of the wine made is unknown!
One of the main reasons for growing and producing our own wine in the UK was due to high taxes placed on importing wines, however in 1860 the government drastically cut the tax by 83% to support free trade and so European wines became a superior choice for the consumer. With vineyards and wineries in England struggling to compete with cheaper imports the English and Welsh wine market took another major hit as we fast forward to the onset of the First World War. The need for food was more important than the need for wine so vineyards were quickly repurposed with crops for food production.
The last commercial vineyard in the UK closed in the 1920s and we continued importing wines from our nearby European neighbours. That could have been it for the English wine industry, however vineyards and wine production were given a second chance in the UK when in the 1960s a resurgent interest started spreading across England, although it did not truly take off until the 1990s and 2000s. Originally English wine was met with disapproving comments and remarks, but now it is becoming a strong competitor in the global wine market.
Today the English wine industry is booming, and producers are planting more vines each year. It is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in the UK, with many farmers diversifying into growing vines due to the potential increase in return over more traditional crops. And what else is a better endorsement to the English wine industry than the renowned Champagne house, Taittinger buying land to plant vines here?
Today the English wine industry has over 763 vineyard and produced roughly 10 million bottles in 2019. Whilst it still only represents a small share off the world wine market, English wine is shipped to over 40 countries worldwide.
So that’s the story, click on a region to find out more or join our mailing list to become part of our wine revolution!
Divided into East and West, Sussex is home to the majority of vineyards in the UK, accounting for approximately 25% of all wine produced in England in 2016. It is an ideal location for vineyards as it is one of the sunniest regions in the UK and is dominated by limestone chalk soils like those of the Champagne region in France.
Sussex benefits from a cool evening sea breeze allowing the grapes to develop high levels of natural acidity, critical for good quality sparkling wines. Sussex wines often reflect the soil of the region, developing a chalky, flint and mineral character.
In 2016 Sussex became the first English wine region to be awarded Protected Designation of Origin PDO status in 2016. This means that any wine labelled as Sussex wine must be produced in Sussex from grapes grown in the region.
Located between the Thames Estuary and the English Channel, Kent is famously known as the ‘Garden of England’. It shares a similar soil type to Sussex and often have a pronounced mineral nose, as well as aromas of apples, pears and elderflower.
In fact, the Kent region has a similar climate to that of Champagne region 20 years ago and was the first time a Champagne house invested in the English wine industry. Taittinger purchased land in Kent in 2015, announcing their plans to plant the classic Champagne grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
Hampshire is known for its seaside resorts, but it also has a long history with vine growing and winemaking. In 1951 Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones planted a vineyard after taking advice from the celebrated Champagne House, Pol Roger and released the first commercial range of English wines. This vineyard was the first commercial vineyard in the UK and still exists today, continuing to produce delicious wines; Hambledon vineyard.
Today vineyards in Hampshire are generally planted in three main areas; South Downs National Park, Test Valley and New Forest National Park. However, most of the vineyards are located in the South Downs National Park due to the gentle south facing slopes.
East Anglia is one of the driest regions in the UK and has dense soils with high proportions of clay. Vineyards here are known for producing aromatic and elegant white wines from the grape variety Bacchus. They also successfully grow some German crossings such as Reichensteiner, Schonburger and Huxelrebe. In fact, our own widely acclaimed No 1 is made from East Anglian Bacchus.
Bordering London, this region is home to five of the leading wine producers in the UK. Surrey has chalky soils that are made up of the remains of ancient marine fossils. It is the second region in the UK that a Champagne house has invested in and is home to one of the largest wine producers in England, Denbie’s Estate.
The south west of England includes the counties of Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Here the vineyards are smaller than those you find in the south east of England, but they still produce some amazing wines. Some of the main grape varieties you will find in this region are Pinot Noir, Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner.
Yes, vines are grown as far north as Yorkshire! This is the most northerly vine growing region in the UK. Vine growing in Northern England dates back to the Roman times when Benedictine monks made wine in this area.
Vine growing is made possible today in the North of England due to the development of cold climate grape varieties such as Regent, Rondo and Phoenix. However, location is still key so many of the vineyards you find here are located on south facing slopes in order to maximise the sunlight exposure.