Paul Howard

English Wine Week

English Wine Week 27 May – 4 June 2017

English Wine Week 2017 runs from 27 May to 4 June. The English Wine Producers website has the details of all the events planned. It involves wineries, retailers, restaurants, and pubs. You can also order a free map showing the vineyards. There will be one near you!

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

In 1920, the last commercial vineyard in Britain closed, finally ending a continuous period of wine growing and wine making started by the Romans and then continued by Monks.

It must have been a sad day when Castell Coch in Wales gave up the struggle. Wine growing in Britain died out. The abolition of the Monasteries, an unsuitable climate, and Britain’s emergence as a trading nation had long sealed its fate. Importing excellent 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. However, these were precarious economically, and many of the wines made were only of curiosity value.

Gradually, new grape varieties, better techniques, and scientific research became available. Changes in tourism, wine drinking, and climate all meant a fledgeling 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 first vines replanted here were German and French hybrids. These were 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. Reds included Rondo, Triomphe, Regent, and Dornfelder. There are more than two dozen other unusual varieties with unfamiliar names. They make good characterful wines.

However, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are growing successfully in Britain for the first time. These two grape varieties now account for nearly half the vineyard area planted. Our climate has warmed. It’s now comparable with Champagne’s climate of 30 years ago.

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 Taittinger and Vranken-Pommery are planting new vineyards in Kent and Hampshire. 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 rivals Champagne. For me, Exton Park, Nyetimber and Camel Valley lead the way, but there are plenty of rivals not far behind. There is an explosion of world-beaters, with one million new vines in 2017. There are lots of wine choices, and stockists even include Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and Harvey Nichols.

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 and make ideal wedding venues. The abilities of the winemakers and the quality of the wines they make will amaze you.

Stop Press: Congratulations to Camel Valley for being the first English vineyard to receive protected PDO status for Darnibole in May 2017!

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!

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