Paul Howard

English Wine Week 28 May - 5 June 2016

English Wine Week 28 May – 5 June 2016

English Wine Week 2016 runs from 28 May to 5 June. The English Wine Producers website has the details of all the events planned around the country. Wineries, retailers, restaurants, and pubs are all involved. You can also order a free map showing the vineyards, and you may be surprised to find one near you!

While still a small industry, the quantity, and quality of our wines are growing quickly. English wine is a recent success story.

In 1920, the last commercial vineyard in Britain was abandoned, finally ending a continuous period of wine growing and wine making started by the Romans.

It must have been a sad day when Castell Coch in Wales gave up the unequal struggle and wine growing died. Monks had continued a British winemaking tradition. However, the abolition of the Monasteries, an unsuitable climate, and Britain’s emergence as a trading nation had sealed its fate. Quite simply, importing superior wines from France, Spain and Portugal was easier, cheaper and more profitable.

After the Second World War, vineyards were re-established in the south of England, but they remained precarious.

Gradually, new grape varieties, better techniques, and scientific research became available. Changes in tourism, wine drinking, and climate all meant that a fledgling industry became commercially viable.

Now home-grown wine is prospering, more so than at any time in the past. We make wines of which we can all be proud.

The vines planted here were once  German and French hybrids bred to produce ripe and healthy grapes despite our capricious damp climate. For example, you’ll find dry white wines made from Müller-Thurgau, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner, with reds made from Rondo, Triomphe, Regent, and Dornfelder. There are two dozen or so unusual varieties with unfamiliar names making good characterful wines.

However, as our climate has warmed, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are being grown successfully in Britain for the first time. They now account for nearly half the vineyard area planted.

On the chalk downlands of southern England (which is the same chalk geology that is in Champagne) the result is exceptional sparkling wine. No wonder Champagne Taittinger have bought 170 acres of farmland near Canterbury. If it’s good enough for them, its good enough for me.

Sparkling wine is our jewel in the crown. Over the last decade, Britfizz has picked up a slew of international awards and we are used to it beating  Champagne when served blind. For me, Nyetimber (in Sussex) and Camel Valley (in Cornwall) lead the way, but there are plenty of rivals not far behind. There is an explosion of world-beaters.

Support our English vineyards, especially during English Wine Week. There are 470 vineyards and 135 wineries across England and Wales. Many make a great day out; with wine tastings, sales of wine and local produce, and beautiful scenery. Some also have good restaurants. Just don’t be surprised by the abilities of the winemakers or the quality of the wines they make.

There is plenty to be patriotic about, and I’ll be doing my bit to contribute to making it a success!

Do you have a favourite English or Welsh wine? Let me know!