Here with his regular series is SW Wine Educator and Writer Stephen Barrett. Topically he looks at English Wine and how the history is surprising………..
Reflecting on just how far English Wine has come in the past 25 years is something special especially for a self confessed Wine Geek!
History tells us wine has been made in the UK since Roman times. It appeared that this was not an altogether successful venture as limited knowledge and unsuitable climate proved simply too much for their efforts.
Having wine on hand in Gaul, an altogether warmer country, created a trade in (better) wine being shipped to sustain their armies and administrative classes.
This receded after the Romans left Britain and simply died when in the Middle Ages it was tried again to become a beverage of note.
With the influence of the Church and Monasteries the “industry” continues but with no real substance and again its demise was evident.
The early Twentieth century brought a modicum of interest as more was understood about suitable soils, grapes and vineyard expertise as the creation of notable sites were undertaken. Fast forward to post war when imagination and rural pioneers took the fledgling industry more seriously.
By the mid 1950s a very small amount of wine was being made to sell. Most of it was a hit and miss arrangement until the 1970s when more was understood and the industries roots seemed to be set.
By the end of the millennium wineries were all over the southern counties of England and a smattering of sites had popped up in Wales.
Fast forward to today and over 700 vineyards and 150 wineries are able to produce English and Welsh wines of quality. That is an explosion of seismic capacity that is also growing as I speak!
Our Westcountry wineries have been at the forefront of this “revolution” with Sharpham Vineyard and Camel Valley leading the pack.
A great deal of these exceptional wineries are also offering vineyard walks, tastings and very good regional food to match with Bistro’s, Cafes and Restaurants of all shapes and sizes creating the “visitor experience” in a quintessential English (and Welsh) manner.
Great Cheeses and Charcuterie, Smoked Foods plus other great beverages are also available and are proving a great addition to the wineries fare.
Whist the majority of UK’s wines are based on White and Sparkling there are a handful producing Red wines of note. These are worth searching out for but don’t expect them to be a wine in the style as Shiraz, Tempranillo or Cabernet Sauvignon, but a more delicate, even perfumed Pinot Noir style.
Rose wines are also on the increase as the often under-ripe reds are able to offer the fresh acidity and zippy fruit to the popular off-dry style much-loved as a great food pairing to Fish, Seafood and Shellfish the coast of the UK is rightfully famed for.
My colleague Liz Sagues has recently published a lovely book, A Celebration of English Wine that updates the progress that is evident in and around the Shires. This is a welcome tome to any wine hunter wishing to search out the wineries of the UK.
So my fellow wine imbibers and restaurateurs go forth and taste wines from the Southern counties of England and Wales, offer them as a thoughtful gift, list them to match with glorious regional English dishes or find a suitable bottle or twelve to replace Champagne as a toast for a wedding or special birthday! The UK wine industry could best be described as a “boutique” style based on a hand-made quality product in true UK manner. That’s how we like it!
Note – May 26th to June 3rd is English Wine Week – look out for Wine Events near to you…..
Stephen Barrett is a Wine, Food and Travel Writer based in Plymouth. Stephen welcomes correspondence via his website www.stephenbarrett.com, www.vinelives.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Twitter and Instagram @BistroWineMan