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Not that long ago, English wine was thought of as being below the standards of European wines and those from other sunnier climates. But all of that has changed over the past decade, and now British wine producers are flourishing.
Indeed, the 2023 Industry Report from WineGB revealed rapid growth of plantings and production, with plantings up 74% in five years and a production of 12.2 million bottles in 2022.
The renaissance of English wine
English wine production dropped off in the 20th century as it was overshadowed by domestic gin and beer, but over the past decade it has enjoyed a renaissance.
One key player in this is Simpsons Wine Estate, whose founders brought their expertise and savoir-faire back to the UK from southern France in 2012, attracted by the quality of the terroir and the opportunity to become part of what is one of the most dynamic wine producing regions of the world.
Similarly, Hattingley Valley began production in 2010, starting as part of a farm diversification project that grew into a fledged wine production business, and is now a 500-tonne winery producing world-class wines.
The reasons for English wine’s recent boom in popularity are multi-faceted, from rising temperatures across the UK to increased interest in sourcing local produce.
As Helen Power, marketing and communications manager at Simpsons Wine Estate, explained, “There has certainly been an increase in consumer interest and wine purchases; for us there has been a noticeable year-on-year growth since 2020, as consumer habits have changed.
“In turn, this has increased demand for our vineyard and winery experiences. This year our tours have booked up at record speed and there seems to be an unquenchable thirst for people to make the grape escape, as UK wine tourism becomes an established attraction.”
Chris Unger, sales & marketing director at Hattingley Valley, agreed, “I don’t think there is any single reason for the boom but rather a combination of things including a very high quality of wines, a move to supporting local producers, support of trade, both independent and multiple, tourism and a desire to try something new.”
Demand for local
One key factor in the rise of English wine is shopper desire to support local, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.
As New Awty, interim CEO of WineGB, explained, “Consumers are demanding more locally produced, environmentally friendly products, something that English and Welsh wines are in a unique position to deliver.”
In particular, “They are focusing on more local and seasonal produce and seeking more sustainable and artisan producers with the desire to understand more about how wine is made,” Helen told Speciality Food.
This has increased recently, with events stirring up British pride amongst consumers and helping to highlight the UK’s high quality domestic produce.
Helen added, “National celebrations such as the coronation have shone a spotlight on homegrown wines, particularly sparkling. These Great British occasions not only boost our DTC sales, but there has also been growing interest from our trade accounts as well, who are keen to list English and Welsh wines and to spread the word about this burgeoning national industry.
“There is now so much quality and diversity in the English wine category and there are so many ways to showcase local wines. Plus, there are an array of occasions throughout the year to pop the cork on a bottle of exquisite English wine.”
Upselling English wine
As a key focus for independent retailers is quality, English wine provides an opportunity. As Chris explained, “The wines that are being produced, particularly the sparkling wines, are as good as any in the world (including Champagne).
“They offer great value for money when comparing against other traditional method sparkling wines. There is a lot of interest locally and from abroad to try the wines we are producing.”
Indeed, according to Phil Norman, head of production at The Uncommon, which produced its first wine in 2018, “I think upselling English wine isn’t nearly as hard as it used to be. It’s all about showcasing the provenance and highlighting just how local it is. Dedicating a section of the shop to English wines and incorporating informative POS and maps can help bring this to life.”
Helen told Speciality Food, “We have been bowled over by the support shown by independent fine food and drink retailers. For us it is so important to share our knowledge and passion for the wines in our range and to offer estate visits and training for retail teams, where we can, so this can enhance the customer experience and understanding of this amazing industry.”
As Phil put it, “Why import similar, fresh, delicious wines when they’re already right here on our doorstep? You can always have a look more local.”