UK wine: explosive growth in vineyard planting

A press release came out from Wines of Great Britain (WineGB) detailing the latest vineyard planting figures, in advance of English Wine Week, which has just begun.

This year (2019) some three million vines were planted, which is another 690 hectares of vineyards. This is a 24% increase in just one year. In 2018 there were 1.6 million vines planted, and in 2017 a million. This is quite a staggering pace of growth.

And we have the 2018 vintage, which was an anomaly that yielded some 15.6m bottles, compared with the recent average of 5.5 m.

The events and promotions for English Wine Week are listed on WineGB’s website: www.winegb.co.uk

  • There are over 500 commercial vineyards and 165 wineries in the UK today
  • 69% of all wines produced in the UK are sparkling, with the remaining 31% still (white, red, rosé)
  • This year’s plantings have increased the hectarage from 2888ha to just over 3500 hectares
  • In just 7 years hectarage under vine has more than doubled

This all sounds very positive, but of course the the elephant in the room is the ‘O’ word: overproduction. I’m not as doubtful as some, and I think the future looks bright. But all these extra bottles won’t sell themselves, and it’s vital that the premium image of GB wine is maintained.

I think there’s an urgent need for a levy-based official body that is well funded and smart, in order to do some proper marketing. This costs money. And they need to be free to make brave decisions that are in the collective good, and I think this means focusing almost exclusively on traditional method sparkling. This is what the UK does so well. It makes world class fizz, and good to ordinary table wines.

To market UK wine best, especially in export markets, the message needs to be simple and clear. ‘We make world class traditional method sparkling wine better than anyone else apart from Champagne,’ is truthful, and powerful. And we need to lead with the best. Showing the world the best of what we do helps everyone, even those who are selling mediocre fizz. To share the love and show people the ordinary alongside the great benefits no one.

And the industry doesn’t need populist cheerleaders who think everything is wonderful. It needs friends who are prepared to be honest and constructively critical.

And there should be funding to bring top international press, key buyers and leading sommeliers to the UK, perhaps for a special week long event. This all needs to happen soon, before these extra 5.6 million vines begin producing. Market growth has to occur in conjunction with extra wine coming online. I’ve run a couple of marathons before. You can’t just show up on the day: you need to train, and build up your distances. The UK industry has time to help build the market before production volumes rise fast, but planning needs to start now.

6 comments to UK wine: explosive growth in vineyard planting

  • Justin H-S

    Everything you say is right. And the last thing we need is another 600 ha planted next year!
    We need to spread the word that we are overproducing until planting slows to 100-200 ha a year. Even then we’ll hit some tough times as we try to sell what we’ve already made….

  • Ben

    Great post Jamie and I agree with 99% of what you say here. My only challenge would be that it is good to demonstrate good budget fizz too and it’s not a contradiction. Show the smart stuff, definitely, but also prove that GB can be competitive in the mid-range.

  • All wise words but with no way of imposing levies on growers for marketing (or any other purpose) you will have 50% of growers paying for marketing 100% of UK-grown wines. We are not like Champagne where 100% of growers MUST belong to the CIVC and contribute. DEFRA could help but won’t saying they can’t impose mandatory levies upon farmers and growers. We are seeing over-planting and it won’t end until, like the high street restuarant chains are finding, supply is far bigger than demand. There will be business failures and consolidation of vineyards. The biggest brands will succeed and dominate as their owners have very deep pockets (and lots of pride). English Sparkling Wine will continue to grow and improve in quality and there are many innovative producers out there marketing their wines and other products in new ways. Long term the business is sound but in the short term there will be a few bumps in the road.

  • Phil

    ‘We make world class traditional method sparkling wine better than anyone else apart from Champagne’. I struggle with this message. Constant comparison to Champagne is the biggest hurdle on the export market and I think your message (or of that kind) could be selling UK fizz short. Surely key markets and important stakeholders want to hear and believe that ‘We make world class traditional method sparkling wine better than anyone else’, without the caveat that allows somms, buyers to simply ignore what’s going on in the UK because if it doesn’t stand up to Champagne, why bother seeking it out?

  • All great comments above.

    And I totally agree with “And the industry doesn’t need populist cheerleaders who think everything is wonderful”. I worked in the Okanagan a few years ago where the locals on the whole weren’t knowledgable but were patriotic and often had deep pockets. The result was that mediocre wine at high prices were able to do well, for a while at least. This created a situation where more money continues to pour in but then when there was market saturation or a recession and the producers needed to export, they struggled because the wines everybody had been saying were good weren’t competitive.

  • ‘We make world class traditional method sparkling wine better than anyone else apart from Champagne,’ sums it up pretty well to me. It’s difficult to argue with and could be a good starting point for developing a consensus and getting the industry pointing in the right direction.

    As a consumer and passionate advocate of English wines, I am delighted with the growth the industry is enjoying. Wearing a professional hat as a creative agency owner I’m dismayed. At some point supply will catch up with demand. When that happens, English wine will need to be more accessible to consumers. Our research showed that consumers are confused by the English (let alone British) wine proposition.

    https://www.thepullagency.com/blog/august-2018/who-says-english-fizz-doesnt-need-an-identity

    The industry hates comparisons with Champagne, but our research showed that it is the key to getting consumers to understand ESW!

    At some point the English wine industry will need to stop behaving like warring tribes and find SOME common ground from which to promote itself.

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