Oct 01: Known to have been making wines during pre-Roman Times, the British wine industry was hit by easy availability of foreign wines but it started recovering from Phylloxera in the mid 20th century and now has about 600 producers with 3600 hA surface area and is expanding to stake a claim as a major producer, especially of English Sparkling Wines, writes Sheetal Kadam who visited Stanlake Park Wine Estate in Berkshire last week
Great Britain producing wine since the Pre-Roman period is open to debate. But the fact that a supporting thesis was found written by John Rose, in the year 1666 on the cultivation of vines in England named as “The English Vineyard Vindicated” signifies the fact that wines were historically produced by the British. It discusses the site selection, vine varieties, pruning and training all the about viticulture and grape growing in England. Today, Pinot Noir the widely grown grape variety in UK was once introduced by Romans 2000 years back. UK produces soft flavor, light body red wine from pinot noir grapes.
Eventually, British Wine Industry was badly hit by the vast diversities in climate. Besides, imported wines like Port, Sherry, Claret and Riesling etc were easily available in Great Britain. It was highly demoralizing for the English wine producers to grow their business during 18th century. Only after the mid 20th century the British wine Industry started recovering from the devastation of Phylloxera.
Absolutely true to say that global warming affects the viticulture and wine making style. In case of Great-Britain the slight temperature rise and the presence of rich limestone soil in the southern region are main reasons for the British Wine Industry rising. 1970s was a golden period for English and Welsh Wines. Viticulture changed its face, making way for German grape varieties to grow such as Pinot Meunier, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc etc. Since then Great Britain has been producing English wines in White and Sparkling categories.
Great Britain has more than 600 vineyards over 3,579 hectares, according to GB Wine Industry Survey Results 2019). Majorly spread over South East UK (341vineyards over 2,720 ha), South West UK (185 vineyards over 465ha), East Anglia (92 vineyards over 143 ha) and Wales (31vineyards over 36 ha). Rest of the UK has 45 vineyards over 215 ha.
Wine Production of English and Welsh wines has shown increase from 5.9 m bottles previous years to 13.2 million bottles in 2019. Still wine contributes to 31% of the total wine production, whereas the balance 69% is sparkling wine. Currently, wine sales by bottle through trade is 53%, Cellar door is 32%, exports 8% (increasing since 2017) and online is 7%. Primary export market countries are USA- California, New York, Texas and Florida, with openings in Scandinavian countries, Japan and Australia.
Last week I had a chance to visit a British winery at Berkshire. Stanlake Park Wine Estate started as a small test project for making wines by Leighton family in the Thames valley. The English winemaker here succeeded in the challenging experiments, in terms of domesticating the international varieties in the British climate.
Over 25 years of his meticulous efforts, today this boutique winery produces a wide range of English wines- white, rose, red and traditional method sparkling wine. Moody climate meaning diverse change in a day, also continuous light rains affects the viticulture production making the viticulturists very difficult to maintain the right growing conditions for the berries.
Nico Centonze, an Italian winemaker currently manages the wine making and handles the vineyard activities. Nico brought out some interesting facts. He states “British cool climate really renders the sweetness to the fruit”. While on a walk in the apple orchard within the winery used for production of apple cider, I tasted some of the British red apples; even the not so ripe ones were very sweet. The just plucked bunch of not really mature white grape berries, was also very sweet on the palate. The wine-maker explains that the variety is not really sweet as the sugar content is just 8-9 brix but it’s the phenolic that gives the sweet flavor and the mouthful effect. The grapes really have to struggle against the unfavorable weather to attain the maturity on its own, leading to such amazing natural sweet flavors.
Wines Tasting at Stanlake Park Winery
Some of the wines tasted at Stanlake Park winery:
Regatta, the dry white wine made from a blend of Ortega, Bacchus & Schonburger grapes had delicate flavors, very fresh, high on acidity. Award winner of Decanter World Wine Awards 2010 (Bronze)
Hinton Grove an aromatic, off dry, vintage white wine, is an award winner of T&CVA Wine Challenge 2019 (Bronze)
Bacchus is a single varietal used to make Bacchus wine. It is now gaining popularity in British Wine Industry-a dry, vintage wine. Enjoy by itself or well-seasoned meats or veggies. It has won many awards as of now; to name a few, Wine GB Awards- 2019 (Bronze), IEWA-Independent English Wine Awards- 2019 (Bronze) and my favourite one.
King’s Fume is an oak aged dry white wine, a blend of Ortega and Chardonnay. Perfect combination with pork, salmon, mature cheese and veggies with rich sauces. IWSC-International Wine & Spirits Competition-2015 (Bronze), IWC- International Wine Competition-2011 (Bronze). Grand Reserve is a dry red wine, a blend of Dornfelder, Regent & Rondo grapes. Goes well with rich flavored BBQ or red meat dishes well-seasoned and spicy foods.T&CVA Wine Challenge 2019 (Bronze). Rose Superior is an English sparkling wine made from single varietal Pinot Noir. Perfectly pairs with white meats, soft and delicate cheese, fruit based desserts or cheese cakes. T&CVA Annual Wine Challenge 2018 (Gold Medal)
Unsavory fact about British wines
Mentioning some unsavory facts about UK wine, an average cost of the English Wine is £ 7-8. The actual cost of the wine including packaging, shipping and the sales margin is just £3-4 in UK, this cost of a wine bottle is equivalent to the cost of a bowl of chicken salad or a tuna sandwich or a cup of cappuccino in UK. So, the rest of the chunk paid in favor of the wine goes to the government in the form of duties and taxes (£2.86 duty + £1.17 VAT for sparkling wines and £2.23 of duty + VAT is £2.86 for the still wines) with reference to the autumn budget with effect from 1st Feb 2019.
The tax bars are definitely too high as compared to taxes and duties paid for wine in other EU countries. The British Wine Industry is still developing in its own steady speed, should the government really levy such heavy taxes and duties for the sake of earnings? Overcoming this hurdle, the English and Welsh wine producers are aiming at making their wines accessible and available for the consumer by the glass in every outlet to be a proud British.
The wine regions like Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex are coming up with excellent tourism projects, such projects will surely cast The British Wine Industry’s strong image as a wine region. Thanes & Chilterns Vineyard Association (T&CVA) formed in 1988, plays an important role in conducting workshops on viticulture improvement and winemaking enhancement. it organizes wine competitions at national and international level to bring out the best English and Welsh wines. This dedicated and sincere approach of the associations and wine professionals is noteworthy. The good news is that Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) in on the verge of adding British wines in the syllabus for students to study and research more. This is the biggest reward for the hard work of the English Wine Producers.