English 2017 vintage “challenging”

Yields of English and Welsh wine fell in 2016 because of bad weather but the industry believes its future is bright. For publication in week of 15 May 2017.

Production of English and Welsh wine from the 2016 vintage declined almost 18 per cent compared with the previous year, though marketing body English Wine Producers insisted it was a “high quality vintage”.

About 4.15 million bottles were made against 5.06 million in 2015. Data were released at the annual English Wine Producers trade tasting in London on May 8. The vagaries of the weather will always be a challenge in the United Kingdom. The 2014 vintage broke records, with 6.3 million bottles – 42 per cent higher compared with the 2013 harvest.

The 2017 harvest is expected to be more “challenging” after frost damaged vines in many areas this month and last. The impact was still being assessed. Ironically, vines were more susceptible to frost because they had flourished after a mild winter and early spring.

In a press statement English Wine Producers said: “Frost damage has been on the new growth from the primary buds. Vines carry secondary buds, which can develop to produce some fruit, albeit less in quantity. It is far too soon to assess the effect that this frost will have had until much further in to the growing season, after flowering.”

Brad Greatrix, assistant winemaker at Nyetimber, said temperatures at their Hampshire site fell to minus 6C on the night of April 27 and some of vineyards were badly hit by the frost. Yields could be halved, he said. Nyetimber is the largest vineyard landowner currently producing in England, with 145 hectares of vines across eight sites.

Denbies and Albury Vineyard in southern England were among other estates that suffered damage to their crop despite placing thousands of candles, known as “bougies” in France, among the vines to try to fend off frost. Denbies is the biggest single vineyard site in England, and is believed to have lost 75 per cent of its crop.

This year’s French wine harvest will be the smallest for 30 years because of bad weather, including frost. The Champagne region was especially hard hit. French grape-growers produced 43.2 million hectolitres, according to data released by the French agriculture ministry, about 6 per cent lower than the average of the past five years.

Despite the weather, the area under vine in the UK has doubled in the past eight years and has almost tripled since 2000. The UK had about 2,077 hectares of vines last year and the figure is predicted to rise to 2,330 hectares this year with another 1 million vines being planted.

Two in three bottles made in the UK are sparkling. A quarter are still white with the balance red and rose still wines. The industry has established its reputation based on numerous awards for fizz. In 2010 the 2006 Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs, made entirely from Chardonnay, was named the best sparkling wine in the world. It was the first time an English wine had beaten champagne for the prize.

Hong Kong-based winemaker Tersina Shieh studied oenology at Plumpton College in southern England, and remains familiar with the English wine industry. “There is no doubt about the quality of English sparkling wine,” she said.

Levels of base wine to make sparkling were good and established producers were “well prepared to cope with the increasing demand for English wine at home and abroad,” English Wine Producers said in its press release, noting that volumes would rise in the future as young vineyards were developed.

Simon Robinson, chairman of English Wine Producers and owner of Hattingley Valley Wines in Hampshire, described the bad weather as “disappointing” given the fine start to the year’s growing season. He acknowledged it was inevitable that some years would be less productive than others. “Our producers are accustomed to levels of variation and continue to set their sights on the future – challenging conditions such as these do not invalidate the basic business model either here or anywhere else in Europe,” drinks business magazine quoted him as saying.

Entrepreneur Penny Streeter purchased the Mannings Heath Golf Club and Wine Estate in southern England last year and has arranged for the planting of 38,000 vines within a 200-hectare park near Horsham. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes will be planted on about 18 hectares this year and next to make sparkling wine in 2020, with the first bottles available in 2023.

Streeter, born in Zimbabwe, was awarded the OBE for “services to enterprise” in 2006. She said the aim was to recreate a “South African-style wine tourism experience” where people could enjoy a parkland estate with fine wines and food.

Only 5 per cent of English sparkling wine is exported though English Wine Producers anticipates that overseas sales will rise in coming years.

Christian Seely is managing director of wine giant AXA which owns the famous port house Quinta do Noval, among other estates. He is also a partner in English sparkling wine producer Coates & Seely. He believes Coates & Seely sparkling is the only English fizz sold in France, noting that his wine was “strategically placed” in restaurants. “It can be found at four three-Michelin-star places in France, as well as Gordon Ramsay’s in Bordeaux.”

The company’s sparkling is sold in 14 countries. Leading wine critic Tom Stevenson described the non-vintage rose brut as “simply stunning” and “one of England’s greatest sparkling wines”. Another critic, Ollie Smith, said the 2009 La Perfide sparkling rose was a “new benchmark for English pink bubbles”. The company’s marketing brochure said Coates & Seely aims to combine French craftsmanship with English terroir to produce quality wines, and they have succeeded.

As of late 2015, the most recent figures from the Wine Standards branch of the Food Standards Agency, the UK had 502 commercial vineyards and 133 wineries. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted grapes, representing just over half of the total.

By late last year wines were exported to 27 countries, up from 19 a year earlier. Key markets include the United States, Scandinavia and Japan. Production is predicted to reach about 10 million bottles by 2020. Wine tourism is expanding rapidly and about 150 vineyards are open to the public, though accommodation tends to be limited and more restaurants need to open in the vineyards.

Words: 1,024

Categories: English wine, France, Not home

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