The UK may have just been through the first period in living memory when all of its pubs have been closed, but those members of the public who are serious about drinking good wine will not have missed the bars too much. Wine merchants across the world have continued to operate throughout the recent health crisis, and our loyal customers have still been able to enjoy our wonderful range of English wines, even when there wasn’t any pasta to be found on the supermarket shelves!
If the pubs and restaurants being out of action encouraged you to start sourcing your own UK-grown bottles during the lockdown, the short guide below may be of interest if you wish to find out a little more about how English wine rose to the prominence it enjoys today.
The rise, fall and rise of English wine
The boom in the popularity of English wine may be a very recent phenomenon but, in fact, the history of vineyards in the UK can be traced all the way back to Roman times, when the Empire imported the practice of winemaking shortly after its arrival on British shores. Ever since then, a multitude of wine varieties has been produced in the country, although there have been lengthy periods during which whatever was produced in the UK was completely overshadowed by its European counterparts.
It is important to note at this point that the quality of the wine produced in England, despite the less-than-ideal climatic conditions here compared to the more famous wine regions of Europe and California, has never been in question. Instead, a series of unfortunate events throughout the centuries periodically curtailed the success of English winemakers. Just two such examples from the 19th century included a blight caused by a grape-destroying insect and, equally as devastating, a sudden and drastic cut on import tax, which made the transport and sale of popular continental wines much cheaper.
With the 20th century, of course, came the onset of the two World Wars, which also all but stopped wine production in the UK for decades. The post-war years, however, did see a slow but steady increase in the number of English winemakers. This boost was initially fuelled by keen amateurs deciding to learn the trade and ‘grow their own’, and it was only from around the 1960s onwards that winemaking became a truly viable line of business in Britain once again.
Nevertheless, by the 1980s, it seemed that the public had again fallen somewhat out of love with domestic wine, and it was not until the turn of the new century that the numbers of English vineyards started to increase again and that production began its gradual growth towards the fantastically healthy levels we are seeing today.
Whilst there are many reasons behind the renewed success of English wine in its different forms, one of the most important may have come as a surprise to anyone who was only involved in the trade before the new millennium. Historical research suggests that English sparkling wine, like non-sparkling varieties, was first produced hundreds of years ago, but only in the last few years have vineyard owners really started to ramp up production and capitalise upon the nation’s potential for making truly excellent sparkling tipples like Cuvee and Blanc de Noirs.
It was in the 1990s that English-made sparkling wine started to take off with connoisseurs – both here and overseas – and this trend has grown exponentially since the dawn of the 21st century, to the point where sparkling varieties now make up the majority of wine produced in this country. Amazingly, it is thought that upwards of 10 million bottles of sparkling wine is now made here on an annual basis – an achievement that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
With the UK’s sparkling wine now winning international awards by the cellar-full and having received publicity boosts in recent years thanks to events like Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees, it now seems that the future of English wine has been well and truly secured, whatever our inclement weather may have in store!
English Wine: The Lyme Bay way
Our philosophy here at Lyme Bay Winery has always been the same: we source the best English grapes to make the best possible English wines. By collaborating with premium vineyards across the country, including in Essex, Dorset, Devon, Hampshire and Oxfordshire.
One of our longest-running partnerships is with Watchcombe Vineyard, just down the road from us here in Axe Valley. Watchcombe provides us with the cooler climate grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Bacchus, and you can find out more about them here.
Meanwhile, in Essex, The Crouch Valley is home to the Great Whitmans Vineyard. One of the largest vineyards in the UK, we mainly get the Bacchus from their grounds in Maldon. Thanks to a wonderfully unique microclimate, the grapes can stay on the vine for longer which helps to contribute to a beautiful end product. More information on Great Whitmans and how we use their grapes can be found here.
Essex is also home to Martin’s Lane Vineyard, from where we source Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Bacchus grapes. Working with Martin’s Lane, we’ve taken the unprecedented decision to skip a year on our wine release, leaving the 2017 Chardonnay in the cellar and skipping to the 2018 release. You can read more about Martin’s Lane and our decision here.
English Wine Week a (virtual) success
Back in February, we told you about what to expect from the 2020 instalment of the English Wine Week. Since that time, of course, a lot of water has passed under the bridge for all of us and, inevitably, the many live events and tours that would undoubtedly have taken place during the week had to be called off.
It is a testament to the passion of English winemakers, however, that the week-long celebration of domestic wine still took place online between the 20th and 28th June, and was hailed by all those involved as a great success.
With everything from virtual vineyard tours to wine tasting with experts via Instagram, it is no surprise that England’s winemaking contingent pulled out all the stops to showcase their ingenuity, innovation, and dedication to their craft. In fact, the only way the week could have been improved is by its guests being able to meet the producers, and each other, in person – something which we are all looking forward to happening once more in the future!