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English wine sparkles as global climate warms up

By Valerie Elliott from

Global warming has its detractors but English wine-makers won't have a word said against it. The rise in average temperatures is making all the difference in the world to the English wine making industry, which is expected to expand by 50 per cent over the next year.

July and August , 2006, provided such perfect weather for cultivating grapes that growers are confident of a bumper crop, especially for sparkling wine. Continued good weather until picking begins in about four weeks would guarantee a large crop, but early frosts could yet ruin the growers' hopes.

Average production of English wine is 1.9 million bottles, but this year's harvest is expected to produce at least 3 million.

So good are the prospects for the industry in England that farmers are thinking seriously for the first time of ploughing up arable crops to plant vines.

Official figures indicate that there are just less than 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of vineyards in England and Wales . Yet in recent months a further 500 acres have been planted. Even though it costs between ?6,000 and ?10,000 to plant an acre of vines, and takes four or five years to grow the first crop, returns are proving healthy. Growers receive up to ?1,200 for a tonne of grapes.

Mike Roberts, chairman of English Wine Producers and winemaker for his family's Ridgeview label, who has 30 acres of vineyards near Ditchling, on land straddling East and West Sussex , said: “The prospects this year are extremely good and for the future they are magnificent.” He said that, by 2015, 3.7 million bottles of sparkling wine could be produced in England each year — the equivalent of 10 per cent of the champagne imported to Britain . Other labels, such as Chapel Down, are also predicting a bumper harvest. Frazer Thompson, its managing director, said: “It looks like a very good year and the question now is how good.”

Five years ago Richard Balfour-Lynn planted five acres of vineyards at his estate near Marden , Kent , and is now awaiting the returns of his investment. He will be selling Balfour Brut rose from November. “I am highly excited my grapes are clean and spotless,” he said. He is hoping to harvest six tonnes an acre and has already been offered ?1,200 a tonne.

A taste for English wine is catching on with consumers. Simon Field, buyer at Berry Bros & Rudd, the wine merchants, is particularly enthusiastic about English sparkling wine. He said: “We sell Nyetimber Cuvee classic 1998 for ?22.95 a bottle and for a non-vintage price you are getting a vintage English sparking wine. Only wine of intrinsically good quality would tolerate that length of maturation and come out with such honeyed freshness. The key is that the climate in September has changed. It used to be the month when grapes would be damaged, but now they can fully ripen.”

English wines are popular at Sir Terence Conran's Le Pont de la Tour restaurant in London . John McGheen, its wine adviser, said: “In ten years it is likely to be too warm for champagne to be made in northern France . Yet just a few latitudes north in southern England we have the same chalk soil.”



* The English wine market is worth ?16 million a year.

* There are 350 vineyards, mainly in the South East and South West.

* Growers reap three to six tonnes of grapes per acre, at ?700 to ?1,200 per tonne; wheat farmers earn no more than ?90 a tonne.

* Average English wine production is 1.9 million bottles a year.

* 1996 was the best year, with 3 million bottles.

* 2004 was also a good year, with 2.5 million bottles.

* Production dipped to 1.7 million bottles in 2005.

* Nye timber Classic Cuvee 1998 (West Sussex) was named best sparkling wine in the world outside the Champagne region of France in this year's International Wine and Spirit Competition.


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