South Downs National Park ripe for winemaking boom that could be worth £127 million for the economy, report finds

MILLIONS of pounds and hundreds of jobs could be contributed to the economy by transforming the South Downs National Park into a national winemaking hub, a report has urged.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 4:55 am

The national park, which stretches 87 miles from Winchester in Hampshire to Beachy Head in East Sussex, has been home to winemakers since Roman times – and currently has 51 vineyards and 11 wineries.

But a new report carried out by consultancy Vinescapes has found that only 0.4 per cent of agricultural land in the national park is used for viticulture – but more than a third of its agricultural land could be used for vineyards.

The study suggests that doubling wine production could bring in £127 million for the UK economy and created 800 full-time jobs, as well as 75,000 visits from wine-loving tourists.

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Ana Maria Malancu picking grapes at the Nyetimber estate in West Sussex. Photo: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

And climate change could boost grape-growing across the region, according to Nick Heasman a countryside and policy manager for the national park authority, which commissioned the study.

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He said: ‘This study is really important – in terms of improving our understanding of the current viticulture sector in the National Park and also the potential for wine-making to grow sustainably.

‘Climate change is undoubtedly having an impact and, with warmer summers predicted in the future, we know farmers and land managers may be looking at grape-growing opportunities on their land.

A vineyard in the South Downs National Park. Photo: Rathfinny Wine Estate/South Downs National Park Authority/PA Wire

‘More viticulture undoubtedly has the potential to help our local communities thrive and prosper, but at the heart of our thinking is that any growth must be environmentally sustainable.’

The national park has seen a massive boom in vineyards since 2016, with five new vineyards being planted every year.

The wine businesses across the park employ 358 people and attract 33,000 visitors each year, contributing £24.5 million to the local economy and £54 million to the wider economy.

Brad Greatrix, winemaker at Nyetimber, said that the South Downs provided an ideal growing environment and it was already looking at increasing its production.

He said: ‘Six of our 11 vineyards are situated on or in the lee of the South Downs, and besides providing a beautiful vista for us and habitat for local flora and fauna, there is an effect on wine quality too.

‘The South Downs provide shelter for our vines from coastal weather and therefore play a vital role in ensuring the microclimate is optimal for the slow and gradual ripening of our grapes.

‘We are excited by the growing popularity and demand for Nyetimber and as such are looking to increase our production to two million bottles a year in the next three to five years, up from the current one million.’

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