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UK emerges as rising wine power in warmer world, as English vineyards bear fruit of pivot from grass to grapes

CORNWALL: The international wine industry is feeling the heat, as it grapples with the effects of a warmer global climate.

As weather patterns change, so have the types of grapes used and the best places to grow them.

England has turned out to be a winner in the wine industry, after struggling for decades to compete on the world stage.

Higher temperatures in the country have created the conditions needed to grow internationally celebrated grapes on English soil.

There are now almost a thousand vineyards across the United Kingdom. Some French champagne houses have even started producing English sparkling wine, as they face increasingly difficult conditions back home.

SUCCESSFUL PIVOT

One vineyard made the decision to pivot from grass to grapes in the late 1980s and the gamble is now bearing fruit, as it has transformed into a highly successful and well-respected business.

The Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall in South West England made the pivot 34 years ago, replacing the potato crops with Pinot Noir and a host of other grape varieties.

Mr Sam Lindo, who now runs the business started by his parents, said the vineyard can now produce more than a quarter of a million bottles a year, with the wine made available across the whole country.

However, making them a success is still a significant challenge. Factors in the production of top quality wine include finding the right location, expert knowledge, a duration of four to five years, and plenty of investment.

Despite the many hurdles, people are still drawn to the sector, with hundreds of new vineyards opening across the UK.

The amount of land being used for vineyards has increased by 74 per cent over the past five years, with more than 12 million bottles now being produced in the UK each year.

New vineyard Tanhurst Estate has just produced its first few hundred bottles of wine, with that figure expected to grow to 30,000 in the longer term.

IDEAL WEATHER CONDITIONS

Vinescapes’ viticulture climatologist Alistair Nesbitt, an expert in setting up and supporting new vineyards, recently contributed to a report examining the future of wine production in the UK. 

Mr Lindo said Camel Valley is now starting to experience weather conditions similar to that of France’s renowned Champagne region in the 1950s and 1960s, and believes the future presents both opportunities and challenges for firms like his.

“Things have changed now. There’s a lot more Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but what is on the horizon is vines that are more immune to any mould-related things like botrytis and mildew, so these varieties are becoming more important,” he said.

“People don’t want to spray the vines, and they want to do things that are better for the environment. With global warming it has warmed up, but it’s a lot wetter, we have heavier rain, so I think it’ll become more of a trend to move towards varieties that can withstand those conditions.”

For now, UK wine production is still dwarfed by that of other traditional wine regions, but the future of the wine industry may lie away from those once dominant areas.

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