As English Wine Week (23rd to 31st May, 2015) approaches it seems a good time to gather together a few relevant facts and figures about this rapidly developing and increasingly successful sector of the UK wine market.
According to the UK Vineyards Association there are now 470 vineyards in England and Wales. Most are to be found south of the M4 corridor with the majority on the chalky limestone soils of Kent and Sussex. As it happens this is the same geology as that found in Champagne so perhaps it is little surprise to discover that most of the recent vine plantings are also the same grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and are destined for sparkling wine.
The rise of English Sparkling Wine has been effervescent to say the least. The first such wine made from ‘Champagne’ grapes was Nyetimber (W Sussex) in 1992. The next year saw it win awards and international recognition. Ridgeview (E Sussex) followed in 1995 and soon after the millennium the number of ESW producers increased dramatically, riding high on a sense of economic optimism. Establishing a vineyard for sparkling wine is not for the faint-hearted or for those without very deep pockets. It has been estimated that in the first three years, there will be a cost of £375,000 for every hectare. Add to that the cost of picking, fermenting, blending, ageing, bottling, labelling and distributing the wine and you must expect to spend well over £6 million pounds in the first five years of a 10 hectare vineyard before you have seen any returns whatsoever.
And yet the production of English Sparkling wines has increased by nearly 150% in the last five years. 4 million bottles were made in 2014 and statistics from the English Wine Producers predict that sales of English sparkling wine will be around 5 million bottles at a value of approximately £100 million by the end of 2018. From a standing start less than 30 years ago these figures would seem to explain the enthusiastic response to crowd-funding offers. Chapel Down in Kent launched it’s crowd-funding venture in September 2014, £3.95m in just over three weeks. In November 2014, another Kent vineyard, Gusbourne Estate, sold shares through London Stock Exchange’s AIM market, a market for smaller companies and raised £1.8 million. With bank interest rates so risible and not expected to rise in the first year of our new Tory government, the idea of investing in English fizz begins to look not only patriotic but positively sensible.