UK wine: explosive growth in vineyard planting

A press release came out from Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) detailing the latest vineyard planting figures, in advance of English Wine Week, which has just begun.

This year (2019) some three million vines were planted, which is another 690 hectares of vineyards. This is a 24% increase in just one year. In 2018 there were 1.6 million vines planted, and in 2017 a million. This is quite a staggering pace of growth.

And we have the 2018 vintage, which was an anomaly that yielded some 15.6m bottles, compared with the recent average of 5.5 m.

The events and promotions for English Wine Week are listed on WineGB’s website:

  • There are over 500 commercial vineyards and 165 wineries in the UK today
  • 69% of all wines produced in the UK are sparkling, with the remaining 31% still (white, red, rosé)
  • This year’s plantings have increased the hectarage from 2888ha to just over 3500 hectares
  • In just 7 years hectarage under vine has more than doubled

This all sounds very positive, but of course the the elephant in the room is the ‘O’ word: overproduction. I’m not as doubtful as some, and I think the future looks bright. But all these extra bottles won’t sell themselves, and it’s vital that the premium image of GB wine is maintained.

I think there’s an urgent need for a levy-based official body that is well funded and smart, in order to do some proper marketing. This costs money. And they need to be free to make brave decisions that are in the collective good, and I think this means focusing almost exclusively on traditional method sparkling. This is what the UK does so well. It makes world class fizz, and good to ordinary table wines.

To market UK wine best, especially in export markets, the message needs to be simple and clear. ‘We make world class traditional method sparkling wine better than anyone else apart from Champagne,’ is truthful, and powerful. And we need to lead with the best. Showing the world the best of what we do helps everyone, even those who are selling mediocre fizz. To share the love and show people the ordinary alongside the great benefits no one.

And the industry doesn’t need populist cheerleaders who think everything is wonderful. It needs friends who are prepared to be honest and constructively critical.

And there should be funding to bring top international press, key buyers and leading sommeliers to the UK, perhaps for a special week long event. This all needs to happen soon, before these extra 5.6 million vines begin producing. Market growth has to occur in conjunction with extra wine coming online. I’ve run a couple of marathons before. You can’t just show up on the day: you need to train, and build up your distances. The UK industry has time to help build the market before production volumes rise fast, but planning needs to start now.

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