Home Wine Business Editorial Expert Editorial Eastward, Ho! Winegrowers Embrace England’s Rising Temperatures

Eastward, Ho! Winegrowers Embrace England’s Rising Temperatures

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England’s wine industry is reaping benefits from climate change.

By James O’Connell

 

Recently Jackson Family Wines, Taittinger, Pommery and the world’s biggest sparkling wine firm, Germany’s Henkell-Freixenet, have all bought or planted vineyards in the southeast of England. Informed wisdom is that other foreign producers, including some Champagne houses and a well-known Spanish brand, are seriously scouting for suitable sites. 

Why? Why would anyone set up in a country where the quality of the wine used to be on a par with its (allegedly) poor cuisine? “Wine that tastes of rain” was one damning indictment of English wine as recently as the late 1990s.

Denbies Wine Estate, Surrey, UK

Blame climate change

England has an attractively cool climate that is ever-more suitable for moderate alcohol: typically, 74°F in summer. Contrast this with temperatures regularly exceeding 100°F for weeks on end in a number of European winegrowing regions (not to mention ever more extreme weather events, e.g., despite it being winter now, Spain is in the grip of a widespread drought). Rather depressingly, the clever money is saying that things will only get worse. In comparison English producers’ primary challenge is an over-abundance of rain (which did not stop 2023 being a spectacular harvest).

Having a temperate climate akin to the Champagne region in the 1980s is a major draw, but quite a few places can boast such a climate (if the word “boast” can really be used to describe constant drizzle…). 

So, what else makes England the new go-to location for producers wanting a safe-haven alternative?

Beneficial conditions

Another draw is that the chalky soils in parts of southern England are similar to that of the Champagne region. Also, English being the native tongue is helpful. Plus, the wine industry in England (and Wales) is in its Goldilocks phase. It’s not so small that there is a lack of infrastructure or trained staff to support expansion (, there are companies to help with planting and maintenance, and specialist accountants, law firms and colleges, etc.), but not so large that foreign producers are frozen out or at a significant disadvantage. 

It also helps that there is an established and growing local market for locally produced wine, and that the country’s sparkling wine (at least) nowadays has a superb reputation for consistent quality. It is also an exciting wine-growing environment: English (and Welsh) producers are not afraid to experiment and to borrow techniques from around the world.

Business is booming

Currently, the vast majority of grapes are grown in the southeast region of England (look up particularly the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Kent). However, the whole of the southeast in its entirety is the same size as New Jersey. And it’s well populated. Accordingly, land prices are at a premium: inevitably meaning a smaller acreage under cultivation. This, in turn, favors producers of premium products (Bolney, the producer bought by Jackson Family Wines in 2022, sells its sparkling wine at between US$39 and US$50 per bottle, including taxes).

Finally, English producers have also learned from their American cousins, and so wine tourism, although in its infancy, is very much something that is here to stay.

So, come on over, the drizzle awaits!

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James O’Connell

James O’Connell is a partner with Mayo Wynne Baxter solicitors in the southeast of England. Its team of legal professionals has in-depth knowledge and experience working with vineyards and wineries, staying up-to-date with the latest regulations and trends in the UK wine industry and all viticulture and vinification sectors.

www.mayowynnebaxter.co.uk / joconnell@mayowynnebaxter.co.uk

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