If a wine expert has ever cornered you, you’ll know it can be difficult to keep up. Perhaps you just don’t have the vocabulary or the know-how when it comes to winemaking. Fear not – wine knowledge isn’t all about the ‘now’. There’s plenty of fascinating wine history, particularly in fair old England.
We recently sat down with Katrina, our Operations Manager, for a quick history lesson, and we were not disappointed. So, next time you’re at a loss for words when it comes to wine, keep this blog in mind. Here’s everything (well, three things) you didn’t know about the history of English wine.
Thank the Romans
The story of English wine is nothing without our friends, the Romans. Did you know they were among the first to introduce wine cultivation to England? When they weren’t busy fighting, marching and occupying, they studied our climate and soil and ultimately decided it would be suitable for grape growing.
We can trace this back to the year 1 AD, when they established the first few English vineyards. Several written records pay particular mention to what we now know as Sussex. Here, the Romans built villas and vineyards aplenty, only to export the wine back to Rome.
Sparking wine was made in England
It was the year 1662 when scientist and physician Christopher Merret submitted a paper to the British Royal Society. He explained the process of carbonating wine, including fortification with sugar and molasses.
Once winemakers settled on a successful and repeatable method, they got serious about production and insisted on using thicker, heavier glass to prevent the bottles from exploding. This early success in producing (and storing) sparkling wine pre-dates Dom Perignon’s discovery of champagne.Stick that in your flute and drink it.
The UK wine industry is thriving
Recent figures released by Wines of Great Britain show that there were 897 vineyards and 197 wineries in the UK as of 2022. The UK boasts an impressive hectarage of 3,758, and 91% of the land ‘under vine’ is in England. That’s a tremendous 70% increase in just five years and a 400% increase since the turn of the millennium. In fact, there were more hectares planted in 2020 and 2021 than throughout all of the 2000s.
Naturally, counties further south boast the most vineyards partly due to climate. Surrey averages about 7th in hectarage, falling short of south-eastern counties such as Kent, West and East Sussex and Essex. And finally, the most planted grape varieties in England and Wales, by a long way, are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
These numbers paint a promising picture for the future of English winemaking, an industry made up of more prominent winemakers and many hundreds of boutique businesses just like Penn Croft.
Just because we think this is rather interesting: It’s estimated that 63% of all English wine exports head to Scandinavia. This isn’t a huge surprise, as popular tipples native to Denmark, Norway and Sweden tend to be beers and distilled liquors. It’s great to know that our Nordic neighbours favour the fruits of our labour so much, so here’s a challenge for you: If you’re ever lucky enough to visit the region, can you spot some English wine on the menu?
That’s all for now. We love to talk about wine at any given opportunity, so we’ll certainly share more interesting facts and figures as we come across them. Until then, cheers!