Rural Hub

Why the English wine industry is full of confidence

4 mins

The English wine industry is in its ascendancy. The sector is proving to be one of the fastest growing in the agricultural sector. Production is up, sales are up and ambitions are high.

2018 was a knockout year for both the quality and quantity of wine produced. As might be expected, the long, hot, summer suited vines perfectly, with low rainfall in June facilitating really high pollination rates, driving up yields. Growers were also blessed with long, hot days in the late summer and autumn, providing excellent ripening conditions. In short, the weather came at the right time, in the right order.

It was a similar story across the Channel, with some wine makers in the Champagne region suggesting it was the best harvest for 500 years!

Growth in plantings

Investment in the UK wine industry is also on the rise.

The acreage of land planted to vines has grown 160% in the past ten years, according to the trade body Wine GB.

There had been strong growth in the area planted since 2003, when Nyetimber’s 1996 Classic Cuvee won a ‘Which?’ blind tasting award, beating an award-winning Champagne.

But the decision in 2015 by Taittinger to buy land in the UK on which to produce English sparkling wine has proved to be the catalyst for yet further expansion. It’s a move that has cemented the UK’s credibility as a wine-producing region – a high-profile endorsement that led to the planting of 1m new vines in 2017 and another 1.8m vines in 2018.

Future plantings may also be boosted by HMRC’s recent decision to widen its definition of agriculture for eligibility to agricultural property relief to include the growing of vines for wine production.

The sector has a new-found confidence. It is projected that by 2040 the UK could be producing 40m bottles of wine with a retail value of £1bn.

Wine tourism

The growing interest in English vineyards and wineries is likely to open up new opportunities, which could prove a boost to the rural economy.

Although vineyards can be found in many parts of the country, the bulk of the acreage is in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. There’s already talk of the potential for a wine tourism trail running from Winchester to Canterbury. Evidence from other countries suggests that international wine tourists can spend up to 80% more than traditional tourists, which would bring extra trade to pubs, shops and hotels, as well as the vineyards themselves.

The challenges

But there are challenges that the industry will need to address as it develops.

For winemakers looking to enter the industry or for businesses seeking to expand their operations, the big challenge is finding the right site. Poor site selection and variable weather conditions leads to inconsistent yields. The soil type is crucial, but sites also need to be south-facing, sheltered and less than 100 metres above sea level. Most land for viticulture is secured off market, so local knowledge of the land market is essential.

It’s also a sector that requires deep pockets. Vineyards have high up-front investment costs and it is seven or eight years before wine sales generate any significant income.

Distribution channels

Another challenge facing the industry is that more than 50% of distribution is currently through wholesalers, meaning many wineries are currently selling the bulk of their product at trade prices.

Increasing the percentage of bottles that wine producers sell at full retail price – through growth in sales direct to the consumer (cellar door sales) – will be key to the future success of the industry. The sector will also need to develop its exports if it is to meet its growth aspirations.

As a relatively young industry, most wine producers are dealing with every stage of the production and retail process – from grape to glass. It’s likely, as the industry matures, we will start to see greater specialisation within the sector, with different specialist businesses dealing with the different stages of the production cycle.

Some may focus on site identification and the growing of grapes, while others will buy grapes on a contract basis and actually make the wine. They in turn will use specialist retailers to market and sell to the end consumer.

The UK wine industry is in a buoyant mood and there is a sense that 2018 will go down as the year in which the sector came of age. But like a fine wine it needs a period to mature.

Ed Mansel Lewis
Head of the Vineyard Group
South East, West & South West
Send a message to Ed Mansel Lewis
4 mins

Related Articles


Strutt & Parker support for new National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise

Strutt & Parker is delighted to announce that it will be one of the founding business service partners of the new National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE). The Centre plans to undertake research and knowledge exchange to support resilience and innovation among rural firms, unlocking the untapped potential of rural economies across the UK. […]

The restoration of Scottish peatland

Work on peatland restoration projects may have stopped across the UK but the clear long-term commitment to peatland restoration by both the UK and Scottish governments is a welcome boost.  The UK Peatland Strategy, published in 2018, aims to deliver 2m hectares of peatland in good condition, under restoration or being sustainably managed by 2040. […]

Six ways to make environmental improvements on a farm

For almost 30 years, the Allerton Project has been exploring how to combine productive agriculture with wildlife and environmental improvements. With farming at a crossroads, what lessons can it offer about the route to sustainable intensification? Farmers are under more pressure than ever to raise their environmental performance and deliver public goods to access government […]

13 key points from Defra’s update on the future of farm policy – February 2020

Defra has published a progress update on the implementation of its new farming policy for farmers in England and a discussion document outlining its latest thinking on the rollout of the Environmental Land Management System (ELMS). The key points from Defra’s update for farmers and landowners are as follows: 1. Confirmation that direct payments will […]

Talk to us

Want to talk to us about our rural specialisms? Send us a message and we will make sure it gets to the right person.

Please write your name
Please write a message

Sign up

Sign up to be notified when we launch new publications so you’re always ahead of the research.

Please write your name
Please write a correct email address
Send me updates about
Please tick a box