Great Britain

Introduction   English Wine History   Vineyards   The Grapes  

Great Britain Wineries

Boze Down Vineyards
Boze Down has one red blend wine, a Schonburger, and a few mixes that are quite interesting. They even have a Sparlkling Brut.

Brecon Court Vineyards
This Welsh vineyard has 8 acres of vines, both red and white. They also have a large deer park.

Cariad Wines / Llanerch Vineyard
Located in Wales, this winery is made up of the following grapes: Huxelrebe, Reichensteiner, Kernling, Bacchus, Seyval Blanc, and Triomphe d'Alsace.

Carr Taylor Vineyards
Set up in 1971, this is a relatively old vineyard for England. It creates Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wines, amongst other things.

Denbies Wine Estate
Denbies is a working winery and Visitor Centre and offers a tour and tasting that last 45 minutes. The tour includes two fascinating films, a trip on the train 'people mover' that takes visitors through the working winery and a wine-tasting (3 wines).

Harbourne Vineyard
Planted in 1979 in southeast England, this winery produces wines that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. They put out a dry white, a medium-dry white, and a rose wine.

Lurgashall Winery
Lurgashall Winery creates a range of English Country Wines, Meads and Liqueurs. Hand-made using natural ingredients from the countryside and traditional fermentation methods.

Sedlescombe Organic Wines
This vineyard grows gewurztraminer, reichesteiner, kerner, and ortega grapes. It makes them into white wines, and also creates fruit wines.

Titchfield Vineyards
Titchfield Vineyards has planted Bacchus, Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner, Faber ,Pinot Noir, Madeliene Angevine, Rondo, Auxerrois, and Regent.

Wickham Vineyards
Wickham Vineyards is Hampshire's leading winery. You can taste the award winning wines, including one specially made for the House of Commons. Guided tours illustrate the history of wine in England and the process of wine making from the grape to the bottle.

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Asked to suggest a subject about which more nonsense is talked than any other, one might put wine high on the list.

Apart from the incredible verbiage used by many writers there is also that out-dated belief that only French wine is great. Advertisers are breaking former barren ground with the wines of the New World and the Antipodes and even those of Eastern Europe, but no full pages in the glossy magazines, no scintillating TV adverts sing the praises of a group of wines which can be very fine indeed. On their small scale the English Wine growers simply can't afford it.

English Wine should never be confused with British Wine. What's in a name? one may ask. English and Welsh Wine is produced from grapes grown and freshly picked in English and Welsh vineyards. British wine is made in bulk, in far larger plants than English wineries, from grape concentrate imported from various foreign countries. Unfortunately most people don't even know there are English and Welsh wines but today there are over 400 vineyards large and small in England, Wales and the Channel Islands.

UK vineyards cover over 1000 hectares, (almost 2500 acres) and represent a revived English industry.

The concentration, though by no means the majority, is in Kent and Sussex. Other important areas cover Wessex and the Isle of Wight, particularly Somerset south of the Mendips. The Severn and Thames Valley regions are significant and about 30 vineyards are spread widely throughout East Anglia. With the most northerly in England, perhaps even in the world, planted near Durham, there are vineyards in all but six English counties and several in South Wales.


English Wine History

Much of the history of English Wine is obscure but one thing is certain - England has been producing wine for a very long time.

The 1987 discovery by archaeologists in Dorset of a "prehistoric" cultivated grape pip among other domestic refuse has led some to wonder if Bronze Age man grew vines here. Much can only be conjecture, but it is generally accepted that the Romans introduced viticulture to Britannia. There were likely to have been vineyards attached to the villas scattered across what are now England's southern counties. The great vineyards along the Rhine are better known today than those of England but. interestingly enough, it is most likely that vines were growing in Sussex 700 years before they were planted in, say, the Rheingau, one of Germany's prime wine growing regions.

After the Romans, the invading Saxons in the Sixth Century found the Celts whom they were supplanting to be drinkers of wine, either imported or home produced, and they themselves, despite their reputation as ale swillers, did plant vines. An edict of King Alfred stipulated the penalties for damaging a neighbour's vineyard and there exists documentary evidence of a grant by King Edwin in 955 of land for a vineyard to the Abbey of Glastonbury.

However it was the period which followed the Norman invasion of 1066 which saw the burgeoning of an English viticulture, notably with the granting of lands to French religious orders and on manorial holdings , Some forty vineyards are recorded in the Domesday Book from Somerset to Essex including a number of locations now in the centre of London. in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the map showing the locations of the English and Welsh Abbeys is almost, ipso facto, a map of the vineyard s , Wine was required for sacramental and medicinal purposes, for victualling the large numbers of People dependent on the monasteries and for visitors and travellers.

Yet, as with so much of their national achievemnent, no sooner are the English on to a good thing, than they begin to lose out. In 1152 the future King Henry 11 married Eleanor of Aquitaine and thereby brought to the English crown two Years later the territories which include Bordeaux. The great, even then, wine region became technically "English" and its Product began to flow freely into England - and has not stopped since, Many may have preferred the French wine anyway but certainly, with reduced tariffs and easier controls, the home Product suffered. England, which in any case was concentrating on grain and later on wool, could not maintain its wines as a major economic enterprise. Two centuries later the Black Death devastated England in 1348 and so reduced the labouring population that very many vineyards were abandoned and never revived.

But it was in part the amorous proclivities of another King Henry which effectively eliminated vine growing in England as a commercial enterprise. Henry Vlll's divorce ostensibly led to the secession of the Church in England from Rome and to the consequent dissolution of the monasteries, More fundamentally Henry wanted the Church's money to build a navy. Either way one of the losers was the English wine industry. This is not to say that English viticulture disappeared completely. Small enterprising vineyards survived throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, usually on country estates, but not as viable commercial undertakings. there was no shortage of both expert and practical writings on the growing of vines and the making of wine in England. John Rose was gardener to King Charles 11 and he wrote knowledgeably on the growing of vines , on training methods and pruning, etc. Phillip Miller was a recognised authority almost a century later. He had charge of what is now known as the Chelsea Physic Garden which, like many vineyards, suffered severely in the hurricane of 16th October 1987.

Perhaps the best known vine grower was the Hon. Charles Hamilton who planted his famous vineyard at Painshill near Cobham in Surrey in the early eighteenth century. He has left most informative noted on the pr ogres s of his vines and their treatment and on his work as a wine maker, "My white wine nearly resembled Champagne and as the vines grew stronger, to my great amazement, my wine had a finer flavour than the best Champaigne I ever tasted" Thereafter there was relatively Iittle worth speaking of. As late as 1875 the Marquis of Bute planted what was to be a notable vineyard at Castel Coch near Cardiff which was persisted with until 1920. Certainly cottage, walled garden and conservatory vines were popular but in no way couId one descriibe these activities as national viticulture. It was on these "private" vines that troubles imported from America began to appear, both powdery and downy mildew and the phylloxera aphid, the latter all but destroying western Europe's vineyards from about 1864.

Only after the Second World War did a few visionaries see again a prospect of English wine. What had been possible in Roman Britain and medieval England should be equally possible in the twentieth century. The detractors could say that England is too far north, too cold, has insufficient sunshine etc., the grapes won't ripen: but the enthusiasts believed otherwise. Foremost among these was Major General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones who planted the first of the new English vineyards, three acres of Seyve Villard, at Hambledon in Hampshire. His wine label depicted the ancient cricket stumps and bat for, here , by Hamb1edon is Broadhalfpenny Down, the birthplace of cricket . Soon he was joined by others, notably Jack Ward, co-founder of the Merrydown Cider and Wine Company, who was to steer English viticulture through all the intricacies of UK and EEC law and their bureaucracies . They and the others had the invaluable co-operation of Raymond Barrington Brock, a name as significant as any in the story of the English wine industry. Brock was a scientist. The vine intrigued him and at Oxted in Surrey he planted a small experimental vineyard from which emerged opinion on vines seemingly most suitable for the modern English climate.

In 1367 there were about twenty five vineyards in the south of England, proving that vines could grow again and would produce wine. Since there were clearly commercial prospects in sight once more , some organisation seemed to be needed and the English vineyards Association was set up. others joined. There was a distinct impetus during the late '70s, The rising popularity of lager beers and imported fruit affected hop and fruit growers and several looked for an alternative crop, The grape seemed to offer a solution. In little over ten years the number and acreage of vineyards increased tenfold. There was no English tradition in wine making so this new breed of vineyard owners was prepared to take the broad view of wine making techniques world-wide and to adopt and adapt methods which seemed to give the best results in England - a wise attitude.

While the number of vineyards grew, more importantly the quality of the wine improved and to such an extent that the new English wines could demonstrate emphatically in international competition that they were as good as any comparable wines in the world.

Vineyard planting went on apace although the average size was quite small. By 1986 there were well over 300 spread throughout every county from Yorkshire although obviously the concentration is in the South-east, Kent and Sussex, with other important regions centred around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Wiltshire and Somerset, the Thames Valley and East Anglia. Today, the development continues and vineyards up to 250 acres have been planted demonstrating the confidence of a re-established industry in England.

There are vineyards in membership with the English Vineyards Association in Wales, the Channel Islands and the Irish Republic (Eire).


The Vineyards

Undoubtedly interest is growing; many vineyard owners are thinking of expanding and other new enthusiasts are wanting to plant vines. The process is, of course, time and money consuming. If one already owns land one can still reckon on over 5,000 per acre to set up a vineyard. The land has to be prepared ready for the purchase and planting of vines the next year. The young plants need protection, fencing and windbreaks. The second year sees the erection of the chosen training system of posts and wires. A fertiliser and spraying programme against vine disease has to be planned and this will continue throughout the productive life of the vine starting usually at four years and continuing for, say. twenty five. These days. however, every effort is being made to reduce the use of chemicals to a minimum. There have to be concentrations of labour both for pruning during the winter and perhaps a summer reduction of the leaf canopy and, of course, at harvest time. There are some 140 wineries serving their own and other vineyards.

One of the factors which influence the wine is the soil in which the vine is grown and possibly the sub stratas. The British Isles displays, perhaps, a greater variety of geology than anywhere of a similar size on earth.

Kent offers a variety of rich loams over chalk, sandstones and very deep clays. Around Canterbury at Elfiam Valley or St. Nicholas at Ash chalk is the underlying rock where the North Downs stretch to the sea. Sandy loam predominates in the large vineyards of Tenterden and Biddenden, Lamberhurst which, contrary to all theory, is on a north sloping face, stands on sandy loam over deep clay above the sandstone which surfaces at Tunbridge Wells. At Westfield, near Hastings, the Carr Taylor vineyard has sand over iron ore and shale while a few miles westward near Eastbourne vines root in gault clay. In other parts of Sussex greensand abounds, as under Nutbourne Manor near Pulborough.

Harnpshire affords variety from chalklands around Winchester to well drained gravelly loam at Wellow, Sandy soils feature in the New Forest and support a number of small vineyards while on its western edge there is stony ground, southern Europe's vineyards often appear to grow straight out of earthless stones with the merit of heat reflection. On the Isle of Wight Adgestone is on calcareous drift forming a fine south facing slope between 150- 250'. Barton Manor has fairly heavy clay.

Wiltshire offers a productive greensand in valleys between the chalk of the Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs , for example at Chalkhill in the south and Southcott to the north.

Chalk continues as a subsoil at Horton near Wimborne in Dorset while Somerset is a most varied county. The underlying limestone of the Mendips supports the medium to heavy loams of Wootton and Pilton Manor south of Wells Is. Moorlynch , south sloping and overlooking Sedgernoor, roots through silty clay overlying blue lias. Yearlstone near Tiverton, Devon presents the almost perfect site, a steep south facing slope above the Exe valley, a silty clay earth overlying fragmented, well drained, red Devon sandstone. Loddiswell is on Devonshire shale. On the edge of Dartmoor, its granite outcrops viewed from the vineyard, Whitstone grows its vines, not surprisingly, in a very rocky soil. There are steep sites in Cornwall with surfaces of light loam among granite outcrops.

Across the Bristol Channel to the north sandy or silty clays provide the growing media for Croffta vines in Glarnorgan as also for Llanerch and Monnow Valley in Gwent whereas, barely thirty miles to the north, Three Choirs in Gloucestershire has free draining red sandstone. Astley, in the Severn Valley has red clay.

From the one major river to the other the Thames Valley supports at least twenty vineyards, several on river influenced soils. Gravelly deposit is quite cornmonplace, again supporting good loams, as at Clapcot and Thames Valley. Ascot, further from the river, borders upon sand. North of London gravel appears again at Howe Green, Hertford. In Essex Coggeshall is likewise gravel based.

In East Anglia Suffolk is mainly of clay topsoil with, in many locations, a great deal of flints or flinty gravel, Helions at Haverhill and Wissett at Halesworth exemplify this. Shawsgate near Framlingham is on medium to heavy loam whereas Bruisyard but a few miles away, has sandy clay loam. Conditions are similar in Norfolk. Elmham Park near Kings Lynn, Heywood at Diss and Pulham st Mary all present similar conditions. In the Midlands there are isolated vineyards in Herefordshire, notably at Bodenham and Croft Castle, in Worcestershire re and Staffordshire, in Cheshire, in Nottinghamshire (Eglantine) and Derbyshire and in Northants. Wroxeter vineyard is on the famous Roman site near Shrewsbury. Modern English viticulture is now more widespread than was that in medieval times.


The Grapes

The vineyard site and its soil and the skill and techniques of the wine maker are vital in wine production but the most important feature of good wine is the grapes themselves, As with all life on Earth, different species and varieties have their Particular characteristics and most of the attention of British viticulturalists over the Past forty years has been devoted to the search for those varieties of grape most suited to our variable climate. To thrive in England a vine needs to be hardy and resistant to diseases encouraged by damp atmospheric conditions, Since grapes will not ripen late here, varieties which are ready for harvest by the end of October are obviously preferred and , whereas quality is paramount, a relatively high yielding variety will commend itself since, compared with the rest of the world, the English yields are rather low in most years.

Recent surveys have shown that the most popular grape variety in England is the Muller Thurgau accounting for some 27%.of the area and 21% of the wine production . Other leading varieties at present are Reichensteiner, Seyval, Schonburger, Bacchus, Madeleine Angevine and Huxelrebe contributing together 42% of plantings and 38% of production, The remaining 31% of vines and some of the 41% of wine, much of which is blended, is accounted for by a wide range of other varieties which include Auxerrois, Ehrenfelser , Faber , Gutenborner, Kerner, Ortega, Regner , Scheurebe , Wurzer and Zweigeltrebe . Pinot Noir and Triomphe d'Alsace are black varieties which are quite popular. Over fifty varieties are being grown in the United Kingdorn, rnany of them experimentally, but in due course there will be an official register of established varieties


This has come to be the standard English vine as the figures above show , It was believed to derive from a crossing of the much favoured Riesling with Silvaner made a century ago by a Dr. Muller of Thurgau. It is sometimes known as Rivaner. The vine became very popular in Germany but in England its wood does not ripen too well and it is prone to mildew diseases. Nevertheless it can crop well.


Often called Seyval Blanc, this variety was the first planted at Hambledon, laying the foundation of a new English viticulture. It was then referred to as Seyve-Villard. The variety is a French hybrid and as such is not favoured by the EEC. It is a hardy vine, harvests relatively late and is reasonably reliable when other varieties may be yielding less well. The Muller Thurgau and Seyval are a quite common combination in English vineyards. Further comment on Seyval appears later under "Quality Wine"


This vine is a cross from Muller Thurgau and produces a particularly crisp wine. It has been favoured in England because it ripens early with a good quantity of fruit the bunches of which are loose and open and so less susceptible to botrytis. Reichensteiner is a " fruitier" grape than Muller Thurgau.


The fourth most popular grape in English Vineyards is a further derivative of Muller Thurgau which it is generally supplanting (Sylvaner x Riesling) x Muller Thurgau. It is more reliable than Muller Thurgau and of superior quality. Its wine has a hint of muscat in its flavour.


When ripe this grape is slightly pinkish and its taste spicy. It was produced through various crossings by Professor Becker at the Geisenheim Institute on the Rhine, In Kent and Somerset it has produced very attractive wines including a winner of the English Wine of the Year Competition, Although rather late in harvesting, Schonburger grows readily and is a variety resistant to fungus diseases, facts which obviously commend it here.


There is much debate about the Precise derivation of the Madeleine Angevine grown in England. It arrived here in 1957 from Alley. Some growers have achieved considerable success with it notably in the West country and as far apart as Worcestershire and Somerset. The grapes which harvest early are greenish yellow and, while able to produce a soft wine alone, are often used with another variety with greater acidity for blending.


This vine is noted for its heavy foliage and large grapes and requires some restriction of its cropping potential. As a cultivator it is some fifty years old, a cross between Chasselas and Courtellier. Not liking chalky soil it cannot be grown everywhere in southern England. Huxelrebe also ripens relatively early to produce a wine of muscat character both on nose and palate.


One of the notable black grapes particularly in Burgundy. In England this variety is being used for red wines. The sun is inadequate to give the really deep ripening this Pinot.


The Wine

The wines made in English wineries are of high quality. They are mainly white although some reds and roses are produced as also, increasingly, sparkling wine made by the methode champenoise. They are flowery and fragrant in bouquet, refreshingly crisp on the palate reflecting the nature typical of English grown fruit. Many wines carry the EVA Seal of Quality, legally a certification trade mark of the Department of Trade and Industry. This means that the wines have passed a most stringent chemical analysis and also a severe tasting test by an appointed panel of Masters of Wine. It is arguably as firm a guarantee of the quality of wine in the bottle as any which exists in the world. Nevertheless, until 1992 under EC regulations to which English Wine production is totally subject, no English Wine, however good it was, could be classed as Quality Wine. Every bottle had to be labelled 'Table Wine'. This was due entirely to bureaucratic reasons and had virtually nothing to do with the actual quality of wine in the bottle. Recent negotiations to change this situation have resulted in a Quality Wine status for English and Welsh Wines.

The average production over the last four years has been some 2.5 million bottles. 1989 was a good year but late Spring frosts restricted yields in both 1990 and 1991. However. 1992 saw the heaviest crop yet. 3.5 million.

English Wine is the fermented juice of freshly picked grapes grown in England and Wales, Oenology is the science of wine and viniculture or vinification the practical art of wine production. The wine maker combines both the art and the science.

The principle of wine making is that sugar in the grape is converted by wine yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. This complex micro-biological chain reaction is called fermentation and, unimpeded, will continue until all the fermentable sugars are converted, The skill of the wine maker lies in knowing how to treat this volatile liquid. The harvested grapes are brought to the winery as quickly as possible. Delay would allow the fruit to oxidise and take on off- flavours. On arrival at the Press the bunches of grapes are usually, but not always, de-stemmed and then milled to break up the berries, A careful amount of sulphur dioxide may be added as a sterilant and the grapes then pressed. There are several types of wine press - most still visibly derived from the traditional basket and screw-spindle design. Modern presses are increasingly mechanised and automated, one particular group being based on the use of pneumatic pressure. A large bag lying centrally through the cylinder of the press is filled with air and so squeezes the grapes between its expanding self and the sides of the drum.

Irrespective of the capacity of the press - varying from a half to ten tons - the pressing cycle lasts about two hours at the end of which all the juice has been extracted, The almost dry residue can be returned to the vineyard as manure, After pressing, the juice or must, as it is called, has to be clarified either by centrifugal separation or by settling for up to 24 hours, At this stage, if sometimes necessary, the must is de-acidified, It may be chaptalised if that too is needed, Chaptalisation is the process whereby sugar is added in order to bring the eventual alcoholic content of the wine up to the desired level if, at the harvest, the sugar content in the grapes was not high enough, The must is then inoculated with a pure culture of wine yeast and fermentation begins.

English Wine is remarkable for its freshness, aroma and delicacy of flavour. In order to capture this, the fermentation ( which gives off heat) must not be allowed to run too hot and so 'boil off' the flavours but must be maintained at an average temperature no higher than 15 C. This fermentation, at first very vigorous and then slowing down, will last for up to three weeks until all the sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

The new wine is 'racked off' its sediment into a clean tank and then left to mature. Night air will chill the winery and cold- stabilise the wine, bringing out any crystalline deposits.

After cold-stabilisation, the young wine is tasted and analysed, some wines may need fining to remove impurities or to help them fall bright. Filtration in one form or another may be used. Once the wine has developed sufficiently in tank, it will be bottled and laid down to mature further. Today, a few English wine makers are adopting an age old technique of maturing same of their wines in oak barrels thereby imparting a distinctive additional flavour from the wood.

The wine maker will taste at intervals and finally decide when his new vintage is ready for release, usually in the early summer following the harvest.