English Wines

English Wines

Posted by EWWines on 4th May 2022

Our English climate is particularly marginal for wine production, including some of the of coldest growing regions in the world and with weather conditions that tend to vary significantly by vintage. However, that does lend itself nicely for acidity retention, and combined with long slow ripening with our lengthy late summer days our climate does offer the potential for high quality fruit to be produced. This potential has been recognised recently and there has been significant investment into the growth of the industry with hectarage doubling in the last 8 years. According to WineGB, 3,800ha were under vine in 2021 compared to 1,438ha in 2012. This figure includes estimated plantings in 2021 of a staggering 1.4m vines and overall a bold 8.7m new vines have been planted in the last five years (2017-2021). There are now 178 wineries and approximately 800 vineyards in England. It is also important to note that wine production is not a new concept; wine and viticulture were introduced by the Romans at least 2000 years ago.

Today, the three main varieties grown are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with sparkling wine production accounting for approximately 75% of total vines planted between the three varieties mentioned. However, higher quality still wines accounted for about 35% of total production in 2020 with a focus in Southern England specifically from Essex to the chalk hills of Hampshire. There are now several well-established vineyards in Cornwall all the way north to Yorkshire with fantastic quality focused growers. Look out for English Wine Week between 19th-27th June for more information as the week is designed to inspire consumers and highlight English wine and vineyard visits. Browse EWWines' full range of English wines if you are looking for some inspiration of which English wines to celebrate with.

There is a classification system in the UK in line with the EU designations PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) which are indicators of quality and authenticity in wine or Varietal Wine. Our system is called the UK Quality Wines Scheme which was put forward and administered by WineGB. The scheme is enforced by the Food Standards Agency. It should be noted that the scheme is not mandatory, but they do enable the wine producer to use certain wine labelling terms which they are not able to otherwise such as “English Quality Sparkling Wine” or “English Wine”.

There is guidance in both still “English Wine” and sparkling "English Quality Sparkling Wine”. The full government document can be found here should you wish to read further, or a summarised labelling guidance from WineGB here.  Moving forwards, too much regulation too soon would arguably hamper our industry in its teenage years but County PDO’s are being discussed with several applications under consideration such as the one instigated by Rathfinny for the case of a Sussex P.D.O.

In short, the PDO English Wine applies to vines grown under 220m above sea level. There is a long list of varieties permitted for still wine including many aromatic hybridised varieties specifically developed for marginal climates such as Solaris.

PDO English Quality Sparkling Wines again must be from vines grown under 220m above sea level but here only 6 varieties are permitted. These are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Percoce (earlier ripening mutation of Pinot Noir), Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and the wines must be made in the traditional method of production (the bottle secondary fermentation most famous in Champagne) with a minimum time on the lees of 9 months (in line with the EU PDO requirements).

The main challenge facing the English wine growers is the annual variation in yields which provides huge financial and supply challenges as demand grows for English wines. Utilising Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is also a gamble in our climate. Both are early budding varieties which makes them susceptible to frost, which potentially significantly reduces yield. Rain at flowering also potentially reduces yield which is why our heart sinks when we see Cliff Richard singing with his umbrella at Wimbledon! We support our fellow Cornish winemakers but a catalogue of these issues, a global pandemic and a poor vintage in terms of yields for 2021 have made their wines very scarce indeed and as a result, you unfortunately might have to find something else to sip this summer.

Below we will highlight two of our favourite English producers, Nyetimber and Hambledon, who both have an exceptional quality focus and outstanding wines as a result, setting a very high bar for the industry. They are helping to put English wine firmly on the world wine map as a result and have invested significantly in their estates and do not use grower contracts to meet their ever-increasing volumes and national contracts.

Nyetimber hail from West Sussex with vines on several sites across Sussex, Hampshire and Kent on classic chalk and greensand with south facing aspect preferred for maximum ripeness. They use only estate grown fruit to create their multi award-winning, world-renowned wines. From their Classic Cuvee right up to their 1086 Prestige Cuvee, which was the first ever Prestige Cuvee made in England, their range is outstanding, and can be purchased here.

We are hosting Nyetimber for a ticketed tasting event Friday May 20th if you would like to explore their range. Priced at £50 per person this event will include a welcome drink and six wines to tasteserved with a fantastic selection (including a top Prestige Cuvee Wine) with accompaniments at the table such as Lancashire Bomb cheese, Cornish Charcuterie Salmon Pate and Cornish Popti biscuits from our range. Secure your ticket today either online or come and see us in-store.

Hambledon are a small, family ran vineyard established in 1952 on the South Downs of Hampshire, which makes them the oldest commercial vineyard in England. Hambledon are forward thinking and very well-respected, making some of the UK’s top sparkling wines. Hambledon’s mission is bold - to create the finest English Fizz - a big mission indeed but highlights the ambition of the estate. Fruit is hand harvested from their own 50ha estate with extensive maturation, reserve wine assemblage and low dosage as standard. The Hambledon Classic Cuvee is well balanced, vibrant and delicious with many elegant layers to discover in the glass, a real joy. This cuvee is 56% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir, 17% Pinot Meunier, from the 2016 harvest with tank-aged reserve wines added.

The Classic Cuvee Rose is very special indeed. With a powerful bouquet of strawberries, buttered toast aromas and magnolia blossom and a rich palate and crisp finish. This cuvee is 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir, mostly from the 2015 harvest, with tank-aged reserve wines added.