Although it is believed that the Romans introduced the vine to Britain as early as 43 AD, there is archaeological evidence to suggest that vines had been growing in Britain before the invasion.
Domesday & Middle Ages
With the Norman Invasion in the 11th century, a concise record of life in the Middle Ages was written through the Doomsday Book. It records between 42-46 vineyards in England, only about a tenth of which were attached to monasteries.
Henry II’s ascension to the throne, promoted links between France and England. Because France made wine which suited British tastes, domestic wine production declined. While the crown ruled France, wine exports from Bordeaux were plentiful, but with its loss, exports dried up.
Eighteenth & Nineteenth Century
Although in the late 18th and early 19th century, some noblemen experimented with wine production, such as Hon Charles Hamilton who had an estate in Surrey, it was towards the end of the century that wine making made a recovery in England.
The most significant progression in wine growing was spearheaded by Ray Barrington Brock, at the end of World War II. At the time, Germany had a climate similar to that of Britain’s and he introduced grapes being used in German wine production such as Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau to the UK.
In 1952, Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones planted the first commercial vineyard in England at Hambleden, Hampshire. What started with 0.4 hectares of Seyval Blanc has grown to over 80 hectares of the three traditional grape varieties.
The expansion of vineyards after this time was incredibly slow. The second commercial vineyard was planted in 1955 by Jack Ward, who owned a wine company in East Sussex. He introduced new varieties to the UK and was the first chairman of the English Vineyards Association. Later in the 1960s, more vineyards were planted, and new grape varieties introduced. Technology also helped improve knowledge and create a better understanding of owning and running vineyards.
Modern Day Wine Making
English viticulture has undergone considerable change, influenced in part by the effects of climate change, particularly in the South. This small temperature increase has brought England closer in climate to that of the Champagne regions of Northern France and has allowed English vineyards to grow the true ‘Champagne’ varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier.
As time has passed, the establishment of more UK vineyards has led to a considerable increase in experience and therefore wider knowledge, leading to better yields and more importantly better quality of yield. English sparkling wines are now hitting the top awards in many blind-taste tests across the world.
At Lyme Bay we produce award-winning wines. They have gained prestige and unrivalled respect in the global wine community, recognised in competitions such as the International Wine and Spirit Competition, the Decanter World Wine Awards – and many more.
Lyme Bay’s Sparkling Rosé Wine has been the People’s Choice Wine Award winner for two years running. Our main passion now is in the production of English Still wines, read more about our ethos and plans here. Established for over 25 years, we continually strive to produce the best, most delicious wines to suit every palate and grace any table. We are already making history but the best has yet to come.