Great news, and well done them; however, not all English wine merits such recognition, with quality varying considerably from the sublime to the questionable.
So why are producers asking similar prices to champagne and other leading wines from around the world? And why should we consider paying those prices?
Let’s look at the facts. There are some 502 vineyards in the UK, a number slowly but surely increasing as more people are attracted by the opportunity to drink wine from their own vineyard. The average-sized UK vineyard is four hectares, with annual production at around five million bottles by around 133 wineries. The UK has 2,000 hectares under vine; the Champagne region alone has 38,000.
We hear that French companies are now buying up land in our key wine-producing areas such as Sussex and Kent. In December 2015, Taittinger bought land to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in preparation for production of English sparkling wine around 2025. Understandable when you consider that land under vine in Champagne realises around a £1m an acre compared to £6,000-£7,000 in the UK.
So why is the price of English wine on a par with that of our friends across the Channel, never mind equivalent quality?
It boils down to two key facts. The first is simple economics: we’d need to buy around £30,000-worth of land. Then there’s preparation, trellising, training wires, etc – up to £30,000 per acre. Vines cost around £1.50 each – with a normal planting of 3,000-4,000 per acre, around £24,000 for a moderate four-acre site capable of producing at maturity around 3,400 bottles. Add in the cost of the workforce – vineyards need constant attention – and the fact that our climate means the first harvestable crop may be five years away, and you get the picture.
This is not an investment for the faint hearted – there’s a saying: “To make a million pounds from a vineyard you must start with four”.
This paints a gloomy picture for those enthusiasts wishing to invest, but all is not lost. The French talk of their ‘terroir’ – the environment that contributes to the quality of the wine. We have the same chalk and limestone. As global warming continues, Champagne now averages temperatures 2.5°C warmer than 25 years ago. The ‘duvet’ effect is making the UK one of the best cold climate wine-producing regions in the world, in particular sparkling wines comparable with those of Champagne and elsewhere.
So are English wines worth the money? I certainly believe we now produce world-class sparkling wines and a few still white wines of outstanding quality, albeit in small quantities. That fact alone is enough to create demand and add value. And if we wish to see the UK develop its winemaking reputation and take its place alongside the rest of the world, surely we should support by buying British, showing the same commitment to our wines as the French, Italians and Spanish do.
The Pipe and Glass is proud to support the British wine industry. Please ask our front of house team for recommendations.