Wine from the United Kingdom
Wine from the United Kingdom is generally classified as either English wine or Welsh wine, with reference to England or Wales as its respective origin.
The term British wine is used for fermented grape juice or concentrate that can originate from anywhere in the world.
Traditionally seen as struggling with an unhelpfully cold climate, the English and Welsh wine industry has been helped by the warmer British summers over recent years and it is speculated that global warming may encourage major growth in the future.
The United Kingdom is a major consumer, but only a very minor producer of wine, with English and Welsh wine sales combined accounting for just 1% of the domestic market.
In recent years, English sparkling wine has started to emerge as the UK wine style receiving the most attention. Theale Vineyard Sparkling Chardonnay 2003 beat off stiff competition from fine Champagnes and top sparkling wines to make it into the world’s Top Ten Sparkling Wine at the world’s only dedicated sparkling wine competition, French-based Effervescents du Monde (sparkling wines of the world) 2007.
- 1 Geography
- 2 History
- 3 Grape varieties
- 4 Surviving British grape varieties
- 5 Effect of the British economy
- 6 Rules of wine labelling
- 7 See also
- 8 References
The limestone soils (technically chalk) of Sussex, Kent and other portions of southern England are suitable for growing the grapes used to produce sparkling wine, and particularly on south-facing slopes, the climate, at least in recent years, is warm enough. At the last official count, the Wine Standards Board reported that there were just over 450 vineyards producing wine throughout England. The largest of these is Denbies Vineyard in Surrey which, as of mid-2007, has 265 acres (1.07 km2) of vines, although Chapel Down Wines near Tenterden in Kent, has the biggest winery and produces more wine, and will soon overtake Denbies.
"English wine" is also a common generic term used in India meaning "Western spirits".
According to the Wine Standards Board, there are currently 22 operational vineyards in Wales.
Chef Peter Gottgens, owner of the Ardeonaig Hotel in Perthshire, planned to produce a white Riesling wine in 2010 to serve his hotel guests. It would be the first wine produced in Scotland in commercial quantities. Gottgens had planted 48 vines as an experiment in 2006, and planned to expand this to 800. Gottgens said: “Cold is not the problem, the lack of sunshine is our biggest problem. If the wine is fit for consumption it will be served by the glass with our food. If it's not good enough we can make it into vinegar.” The hotel went into administration in 2011, though.  The most northerly grape vine of the UK is growing in a polytunnel on the island of Unst, Shetland - the most northerly of the Shetland isles. Unfortunately the label is lost but the vine produces many bunches of small green grapes every year and by leaving them as long as possible (Sept/Oct)they are usually sweet enough to eat straight from the bunch. The majority are turned into several jars of rather nice grape jelly.
The term British wine is commonly used to describe a drink, made in Britain by the fermentation of grape (or any other fruit) juice or concentrate originating from anywhere in the world. It cannot be used for wine in the legal sense which must be produced from freshly pressed grapes. The most common style is a medium or sweet high-strength wine that is similar to sherry. and was formerly known as British Sherry.
Roman to 19th century
The Romans introduced wine making to England, and even tried to grow grapes as far north as Lincolnshire. Winemaking continued at least down to the time of the Normans with over 40 vineyards in England mentioned in the Domesday Book, although much of what was being produced was for making communion wine for the Eucharist.
From the Middle Ages, the English market was the main customer of clarets from Bordeaux, France, helped by the Plantagenet kingdom, which included England and large provinces in France. In the 18th century, the Methuen Treaty of 1703 imposed high duties on French wine. This led to the English becoming a main consumer of sweet fortified wines like sherry, port wine, and Madeira wine from Spain and Portugal. Fortified wine became popular because unlike regular wine, it does not spoil after the long journey from Portugal to England.
When Henry VIII came into power in 1509, 139 vineyards were recorded, 11 of which produced as Royal vineyards, dedicated to the monarchy.
Just as English wine began to recover from the epidemics of Phylloxera and Powdery Mildew in the mid 19th century, brought back with the Explorers of New America, commercial English wine was dealt a heavy blow. In 1860 the government, under Lord Palmerston (Liberal) supported free trade and drastically cut the tax on imported wines from 1 shilling to twopence, a decrease of 83%. English wine was therefore outcompeted by superior foreign products that could be sold at a lower cost to the customer. The twilight of British winemaking tradition, which stretched back to the very first Roman explorers, was brought to an end with the onset of the First World War, as the need for crops and food took priority over wine production. The rationing of sugar pushed the knife even deeper until, for the first time in 2000 years, English wines were no longer being produced in either Wessex, nor the rest of the country.
Later in the 19th century, many upper and upper-middle-class people started to drink wines from many parts of Europe like France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
It was not until 1936, that George Ordish planted vines in Wessex and the South of England, bringing about a voyage of rediscovery for English wines and wine making. With many individuals keen to produce their own wines from home, and with equipment and methods becoming more available, the government outlawed the production of homemade alcohol at the beginning of the 1960s, only to retract the law after 5 years as the homebrew fashion escalated considerably. After a lull in the 1980s and 1990s, homebrewing is coming back, with many small and established brew shops seeing a rise in sales and increased interest through Internet sales. A great number of books and recipes are now readily and freely available and as the recession hit hard in the UK in 2008, more and more people, young and old are turning to traditional methods of wine and beer production.
The effective start of English Wine (in the post monastic era) can be traced to 1952 when English viticulture pioneer, John Edginton (born 1936), planted his first experimental commercial grape vines at Lackham College in Lacock, Wiltshire UK. These vines still exist to this day and are believed to be the oldest surviving commercial wine grapes in the UK.
For the next 10 years Edginton continued to experiment with training and pruning systems, as well as vine varieties experimenting with new cutting edge hybrid varieties and turning those grapes into palatable wine.
By 1962 Edginton had planted an experimental vineyard of just half an acre of new advanced hybrid varieties of Müller, Reichensteiner & Seyval grapes, again against all odds, believed to be the oldest surviving examples of these variants in the UK. This Vineyard at Teffont in Wiltshire, was later joined by Awbridge and Dinton in Hampshire and still produce wine grapes to this day as Teffont Wines, Teffont, Wiltshire UK. Edginton still continues pioneering in viticulture and wine making.
Later other small commercial vineyards in Britain followed in the 1960s with growers such as Joy and Trevor Bates in Kent, Norman Cowderoy in West Sussex, Nigel Godden in Somerset, Gillian Pearkes in Devon and Philip Tyson-Woodcock in East Sussex. Wales also had people like George Jones, Lewis Mathias and Margaret Gore-Browne. 
Viticulture was revived in the 1970s onwards, possibly helped by a rising local temperature due to global warming, making many parts of Hampshire, Sussex, Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Berkshire and Cambridgeshire, dry and hot enough to grow grapes of high quality. The first English wines were influenced by the sweet German wines like Liebfraumilch and Hock that were popular in the 1970s, and were blended white and red sweet wines, called cream wine (creams). The largest vineyard in England is Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey, which has 265 acres (1.07 km2) under vines, and a visitors' centre that is open all year round.
The growth of English wine has had its ups and downs since then. A peak of over 400 vineyards was reached in the late 1980s. By 2000 one third of these had given up . Plantings accelerated in the last decade, helped by the growing success of English sparkling wines, led by Nyetimber. In 2004 a panel judging European sparkling wines awarded most of the top ten positions to English wines – the remaining positions going to French Champagnes. Similar results have encouraged an explosion of sparkling wine plantings. English still wines too have begun to pick up awards at most big wine competitions, notably Decanter, and the IWSC.
Winemaking has spread from the South East and South West and also to the Midlands and the north of England, with Yorkshire, Shropshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lancashire boasting at least one vineyard each as of 2007.
Significant plantings have been happening across the south of the country with a number of farmers contract growing vines for some of the major English producers. Farmers are looking at the potential benefits of growing vines as the return per tonne for grapes over more traditional crops are not to be ignored. A field of wheat might yield 3 tonnes per acre at around £120 per tonne. Growing grapes could yield 3 to 4 tonnes per acre at around £950 to £1100 per tonne. One concern is that growers need to invest money for no initial return, as crops tend to come in the third or fourth year. Another concern is that grape production in the climate is highly variable: "In England, it is only in about 2 years in every 10 that grape production will be really good, 4 years will be average and 4 years poor or terrible – largely due to weather and/or disease exacerbated by weather." However English vineyards share in common European weather patterns so 2006 was a bumper year, 2007 saw ripe grapes but low volumes, 2008 was very poor, but both 2009 and 2010 were good years. 2011 was average, 2012 dreadful, and 2013 good Total British cereal production is not so variable.
Another explanation for the growth in viticulture in the UK is the local food movement, and the desire by consumers to cut the amount of food miles connected with the produce that they buy, including locally produced wine.
English wine was given added prestige when HRH The Duchess of Cornwall became the new President of The United Kingdom Vineyards Association on 25 July 2011.
According to the English Wine Producers over 1300 HA had been planted by 2009, and with further major plantings of sparkling wine varieties the total is likely to be in excess of 1500 HA by 2012. As of 2004, Seyval blanc was the most grown variety, with Reichensteiner next, with Müller-Thurgau and then Bacchus following closely behind. However, Müller-Thurgau, which was one of the first to be grown during the 20th century renaissance (see below), has recently lost favour, dropping from 134.64 ha (1st) in 1996 to 81.1 ha (3rd) in 2004. Other widely grown varieties of white grape include Chardonnay, Madeleine Angevine, Schönburger, Huxelrebe and Ortega. Red varieties include Dornfelder, Pinot Meunier and Pinot noir, and a few others, but red grapes tend to be grown less often, with 20,184 hL of white wine and only 5,083 hL of red wine made in 2006.
Surviving British grape varieties
With the decline of wine producing most of England's grape varieties were lost. However a known survivor of these lost varieties is Wrothham Pinot which has been found to be a distinctive clone of Pinot noir and is speculated to be up to 2,000 years old and to have possibly been introduced with the Romans. Wrothham Pinot was found by accident growing wild up a cottage wall near the village of Wrotham in Kent. The variety is noted for its unusual furred leaves and great disease resistance, particularly to powdery mildew. In appearance it more closely resembles Pinot Meunier but DNA testing has revealed it to be a clone of Pinot noir. It has a higher sugar content than Pinot Meunier and ripens two weeks earlier.
Greenhouse table and wine varieties
Cheap coal, glass and labour meant that the wealthy could easily maintain heated greenhouses throughout the year during the 19th century. During this period a lot of grape varieties were grown under glass, the among the most popular varieties being Black Hamburg. But a number of seedlings arose accidentally or through careful breeding that were propagated for eating or wine. Most of them barely survive, but some such as Foster's seedling are still available. A list of the varieties can be found here.
Effect of the British economy
Most of the wine consumed in Britain is imported from other countries. Now that English wine is being produced in larger quantities, more people in the British Isles are buying it as opposed to imported wines. The quantities produced are tiny compared to the volumes consumed, less than 1% according to DEFRA. In 2008 1.34 million, in 2009 3.17 million and 2010 4 million bottles of English wine were produced.
Supermarkets tend to sell all wines at the market rate irrespective of their country of origin.
Currently, most English wines have a £7 – £12 pricetag, with sparkling wines likely to cost up to as much as £45. However, there are still several small vineyards around the country that continue to produce on a small scale, sourcing local markets and farm shops, where you can expect to pay as little as £6 for a bottle.
Rules of wine labelling
PDO, Protected Denomination of Origin is the top category official category of wine in the UK. PGI, Protected Geographical Indication, is next and then varietal wine. PDO & PGI wines must have a full post bottling analysis and pass a tasting panel (or win an award at a recognised competition). These are established via the UK Vineyards Association (UKVA) and The UK Government's Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
English sparkling wines are made from grapes grown close to the limit for viticulture. All vineyards are positioned at above 49.9 degrees north leading to long daylight hours in the growing season. The climate is temperate with few summer days above 30 °C. The diurnal temperature range is high.
These wines are made from the classic sparkling wine grape varieties. In England these varieties reach full phenolic ripeness at moderate sugar levels and with high acid levels. Wines from this PDO are made entirely from must containing only natural acid. These wines exhibit stronger aromatic flavours of the underlying grape varieties than wines from the same varieties grown at warmer latitudes.
The northerly latitude of the vineyards in this PDO creates the long growing season and long daylight hours that are key to the development of strong aromatic flavours. The moderate temperatures lead to the high acidity and low pH which is the backbone of fine sparkling wines.
English sparkling wines are made from the following vine varieties: (a) Chardonnay (b) Pinot noir (c) Pinot Précoce (d) Pinot Meunier (e) Pinot blanc (f) Pinot gris 9 (g) Seyval Blanc (h) Reichensteiner
Where the conditions for the use of the terms "bottle-fermented", "traditional method" or "bottle fermented by the traditional method" have been met, the term "Traditional" can be used on the label.
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- Defra UK Wine Industry information
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