It’s gone from a joke to world-class in just a couple of decades – but what does the future now hold for English and Welsh wine? Will it be a case of boom and bust, as some are predicting? Or will this be the success story that just keeps on rolling?
We dive into this debate with plenty of facts and figures to hand, plus we hear from Dermot Sugrue (Wiston), Ruth Simpson (Simpsons), Sergio Verillo (Blackbook) and Josh Donaghay-Spire (Chapel Down).
We talk about climatic challenges, the ‘nightmare’ 2021 vintage, over-production, sales, exports, wine tourism, controversial new brands and styles…and reindeer sausages.
Talking of success stories, this could be YOU as this episode features a FREE GIVEAWAY where you could win six (6!) award-winning bottles of brilliant English and/or Welsh wines. Details below.
To top things off, we’ve also got a great value English wine recommendation for you.
NB: if you want to quickly look at the Running Order/Chapter Headings in this episode and/or skip through, simply click on the ‘bullet list’ icon on the green embedded player above.
It’s EASY: just give us a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts!
Then let us know, and you’ll go straight in the hat.
Deadline for this is Sun 17th October 2021. But we’ll still love you if you do it after then too. Results announced on the pod very soon afterwards.
Over 18s, UK only. Proof of ID will be required. This competition is not endorsed by any other platform or entity. The winner’s name will be picked at random from a hat – judges’ decision is final. Wine GB will fulfil the wine delivery.
Digby Fine English Brut NV
Digby are a producer on form and did really wine in this year’s Wine GB Awards.
This Brut NV is toasty, bready and rich, but also dry and elegant.
Pinot Noir is the dominant variety, with some Chardonnay from reserves, and a touch of oak. Totally delicious, and great value at the level – which is why we gave it a gold at the awards. So much wine for the price.
Peter Richards MW (PR): What are the biggest challenges when it comes to English wine?
Dermot Sugrue: Well, to be specific about right now, it’s the 2021 growing season, which is turning out to be an absolute abject nightmare! But look: this happens, about once every 5 years you have to expect a nightmare in the vineyard due to weather. It’s outside our control. It’s just troubling that so many people are suffering, it’s hard hard work and it can be dispiriting and demoralising if you’re fighting disease like we’ve been fighting downy mildew this year.
Ruth Simpson: The biggest challenge facing English wine is still the climate! Ultimately, it’s been a complicated year and a half. And there’s been extraneous circumstances providing challenges. But the climate remains undoubtedly the biggest challenge for the British wine scene. Last year, there were a lot of challenges with frost, this year too. However this year’s been so wet, the challenges of downy mildew in particular, are not going to go away. So it’s looking at climate change: it’s happening, it’s here to stay. It’s not about global warming, it’s about freak weather conditions. And then having to manage through vintages where…you know, we look back over the past 4 years: 2018 big vintage, lovely summer, big volumes but quality too. 2019 a slightly cooler wetter year but last year frost, this year mildew, you just have to get used to the cyclical nature of it, and adapt to the climate conditions as much you can.
Sergio Verillo: Climatic challenges probably the biggest one for us. We’ve been making wine in the UK for past 4.5 years. We’ve had 4 completely different vintages, with a 5th one that’s completely different as well. It’s a bit different for us as we focus on still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. So given our marginal climate and given the variability here in the UK, it makes our site selection ever more important.
PR: What about other challenges?
Dermot Sugrue: I suppose it’s so many new brands coming onto the market at the same time. It makes the world very competitive for all these new brands coming online. The older, more traditional, more established producers, who’ve got a track record, have already established routes to market. It’s challenging for new producers and it will be a shame when inevitably this shakedown comes and producers will lose ground and lose money. A lot of people who’ve got involved in it perhaps to satisfy a lifestyle desire could find their dreams troubled…
PR: So what’s the future for English wine?
Josh Donaghay-Spire: The future’s bright. We’re planting more vineyards. We’re optimistic. We can’t keep up with demand. So the future is bright. There will be diversification in styles. And that’s important, we’re a nascent industry – this is a viticultural industry being born. And it’s happening right now. In England. So it’s incumbent upon us to try new things out, try new styles, try carbonation, charmat, new varieties, whatever it is. At the same time as making the traditional method sparkling wines and competing on price and quality with champagne. We make traditional method sparkling wines, that’s the vast majority of what we make. That is our main focus. We also make a Bacchus that’s carbonated. They’re different styles of wine for different occasions. What we need to do as an industry is to be inclusive. Actually one of the things that people don’t like about visiting certain wine regions is their exclusivity. The fact you have to make appointments before you book. We want to welcome people into our vineyards, explain the differences between the wines, and help them understand it. So it’s that inclusivity that’s key.
Dermot Sugrue: The best thing is that we’ve got a very buoyant market and a market place where we’re winning consumers all the time. The communication about UK wine is just getting stronger and stronger. We’re winning precisely the market share from traditional champagne drinkers, they’re moving to English wine and particularly English sparkling wine. Also on the export markets – we’re getting more and more awareness in countries abroad for the quality that we’re producing on a consistent and reliable basis here in the UK. So that’s very encouraging. And I’m looking forward to travelling abroad and promoting our wines again soon!
Ruth Simpson: It’s very rosy! People aren’t necessarily afraid of the price tag. People are into buying local, supporting local businesses. Once they have the confidence they’re going to get quality, it’s become a very easy sell. I also think that you need to look overseas, to export markets. Places like Scandinavian countries aren’t afraid of high price points, they have a high cost of living. Likewise places like Canada, and to a lesser extent the USA. But because of international recognition we’re getting, exports are good and people have to look further afield. But I still think there’s a huge headspace of growth in UK industry as a whole. Ultimately, people just need to keep up production but the quality aspect is the most important.
Sergio Verillo: Clearly world domination! That is the future! In all seriousness, we’re going to see a lot more things being planted beyond the three champagne varietals we’re known for. We’re 70% sparkling wine production [in the UK]. And in 2018 we saw an even split between still and sparkling wine, which meant we had a lot of new still wines coming on the market. We’re going to see more of that: people are looking to produce more still wines, using interesting varietals that potentially have been untapped, and that are more suitable for out climate given our climatic shift that’s occurring.