English vineyards continue to grow

The popularity of English wines - particularly sparkling - continues to increase unabated.

A Sussex vineyard
A Sussex vineyard

There is no doubt that the climate, along with other factors, make Southern England an ideal place to grow grapes for quality sparkling wine production.

A recent international wine symposium held in Brighton, was all about cool climate wine regions, one of which is Britain.

Many of the discussions centred on the fact that global warming – whatever the causes – is having a dramatic effect on wine production, with the areas suitable for vine growing extending further north, and in the southern hemisphere, south.

Commercial vineyards in Britain now extend as far north as Yorkshire and there are even some experimental vineyards in Scotland.

There are more than 4,000 acres of vineyards now in England and Wales and this is increasing every year, with both new plantings and with recent plantings coming into production. Planting a new vineyard is a significant investment and the return on it can take some years before there is any result at all.

New vines take three years before they produce any grapes worthy of making into wine.

With sparkling wine, the wait is even longer. The still wine has to be produced and then often matured for a while.

It then undergoes processes to make it into sparkling wine which, with the required maturation period, can add another three years to the total production period. Altogether, this means a minimum of five to six years before a single bottle of the new sparkling wine is sold.

Cool climate wine production does, however, present significant challenges to the wine maker.

Frost in the winter and rain in the spring and summer, can cause a reduction in flowering and setting of the young grapes or diseases which can reduce both quantity and quality.

One very beneficial effect of global warming in England, seems to be much warmer and sunnier autumns, which allow the grapes to ripen and remain relatively disease free at the time of harvesting.

The best quality comes from a long, slow growing period, but sufficient ripeness is necessary for both the sugar content of the grapes to be fermented to alcohol and, crucially, for flavour.

Some of the best English vineyards are located in East and West Sussex, where the climate for quality sparkling wines is perfect, aided by the hilly terrain and often chalky soil structure, similar to that found in the world’s most famous sparkling wine region – Champagne.

A great way to explore these vineyards and sample the wines is to undertake a vineyard tour. As part of the up-coming Arundel Festival at the end of August, Arundel Wine Society is organising a whole day tour of Sussex Vineyards by private minibus.

The tour starts and finishes in Arundel on Monday 22nd August and includes visits to Bolney Estate, Ridgeview Estate, Bluebell Vineyard and Tinwood near Chichester. Lunch is laid on in Ridgeview and ‘tea-time’ canapés at Tinwood. A great introduction to the wonderful English sparkling wines, which are gaining international acclaim.

For prices, information and bookings, email [email protected]