Sparkling future for English wine

British farmers are ripping out other crops to make... English wine.

by: Georgina Cooper | 04 Feb 2008

No longer the butt of dinner party jokes, although still a minnow in a very large pond, English wine is now being taken seriously in some important quarters.

"There's certainly a real supply and demand scenario in favour of suppliers, the future is very bright," said Simon Field, Master of Wine and buyer at wine merchant Berry Bros. and Rudd.

Only a few years ago, producing wine in England was just a romantic pastime, done on a small scale by people who simply enjoyed growing grapes – those days are long gone with commercial demand for English vintages outpacing production.

England currently makes around 3 million bottles a year and wine growers estimate that number will quadruple in the next few years.

The award-winning Ridgeview vineyard in Sussex, southern England, plans to up production to 300 000 bottles by 2010, from its current 60 000 by planting 65 more acres of grapes.

"It's really exciting times. It's just gone from strength to strength," said Mardi Roberts, Marketing and Sales Manager at Ridgeview.

Farmers are increasingly realising the benefit of investing in the English wine industry. The National Farmers Union said that each year 494 acres of farmland is converted to vineyards. On average an acre of wheat will earn a farmer 300 pounds, but an acre of grapes will earn 5 000 pounds.

One acre costs anywhere between 50 000 pounds and 125 000 pounds in southern England.

An EU planting ban exemption for English and Welsh vintners approved just before Christmas will only serve the bolster the fledgling industry in Britain. EU agricultural ministers granted the exemption in the complicated review of wine regulations because they weren't asking for any subsidies, unlike wine-growers in many other member nations.

Right now less than one percent of wine drunk in England is English wine, meaning the potential for growth is massive.

The suitability of soil in the south, plus increased technical know-how unimpeded by the constraints of tradition is even proving attractive to French vineyards. Some French vintners are said to be looking to getting in on the act.

"It's a certainty within the next two, five or seven years that French companies will certainly start planting in southern England," Online wine magazine Editor Adam Lechmere told Reuters. "They've been sniffing around for so long and come so close it."

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