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Growth and Size of the Vineyards of England & Wales

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Wine Standards, a branch of The Food Standards Agency, is the Government organisation responsible for keeping records of vineyards in the United Kingdom.  These records are maintained in a Vineyard Register which is updated annually.

UK-Regions-Map-with-vineyarAccording to the Vineyard Register for 2013/14, there are 448 commercial vineyards in England & Wales.  Additionally, there are 89 hobby vineyards, meaning that their owners do not sell any production which might come from them.  The total area of these 537 vineyards amounts to 1,520 ha.  The majority of vineyards are located in southern England, but they extend north as far as Yorkshire and The Humber, and westwards into Wales.

A comprehensive database of individual vineyard plots is also maintained by Stephen Skelton at EnglishWine.com.  He records a total of 599 vineyard plots, with a total area of 1,640 ha.  The reason for this discrepancy compared to the FSA’s Vineyard Register is probably due to the under-reporting in the latter of non-commercial vineyards.

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The data at EnglishWine.com has been used to produce a chart of the vineyard plot size distribution for England & Wales.  This shows that almost half of all vineyard plots are <1 ha and that ca. three-quarters of all plots are <2.5 ha. Currently there are only two vineyards which are greater than 50 ha.  Denbies Wine Estate hosts the largest vineyard in England and Wales (107.3 ha) and is the only one to exceed 100 ha.  The relatively small size of many vineyard plots in England & Wales means that economies of scale are limited and production costs, of necessity, will be on the high side.

UK-Vineyard-AreaThe area of land given over to vineyards in England & Wales has increased markedly and rapidly from a low of 761 ha in 2004.  The increasing reputation of English, especially English sparkling, wines has driven this growth and has attracted the attention of wealthy investors such as Lord Ashcroft.  Future investment into the industry over the next few years will likely see the establishment of vineyards larger than the current norm and given over to those cultivars most suitable for producing sparkling wine.

Greek Wines Shine at Decanter Discoveries Tasting

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Chandos House in central London played host today to Decanter’s “Discoveries from Greece, Italy and Bulgaria” tasting.  Financed by the three countries, together with the European Union, the tasting provided an opportunity to sample wines from 20 small wineries.

George-SkourasWith each winery offering four wines, this was a manageable-sized tasting, if a little crowded at times.  Even so, it’s not difficult to experience tasting fatigue, so I concentrated on the offerings from the Greek producers.

First up was Domaine Skouras, with acclaimed winemaker George Skouras present and pouring. Established in 1986 in the Peloponnese, the French-trained winegrower exploits cool high altitude spots to produce quality fruit.  Skouras wines already have a following both domestically and internationally.

The white Moschofilero 2012 was crisp and refreshing with concentrated peach and citrus flavours and a long finish.  The red wines were based on the Aghiorghitiko grape, with the Megas Oenos 2010 incorporating 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Each of the reds were structured and concentrated with dark black fruits and varying degrees of vanilla and developing flavours such as mocha and leather.  Based on this sampling, Skouras wines are highly recommended and well worth searching out.

Mediterra Winery is based in Crete and showed white wines based on Vilana, Vidiano and Assyrtiko and a red (Mirambelo 2010) based on Kotsifal.  The bottles have elegant labelling and the contents do not disappoint, especially the complex and concentrated Mirambelo 2010.

Mediterra-bottles

Also based in Crete is the Alexakis Winery which, though family-owned, is the largest winery on the island.  With size has come the challenge of working with contract farmers, which may explain why the wines seemed more competent than exciting.

Alexakis-bottles

Based in northern Greece, the Alpha Estate utilises the skills of Makis Mavridis (viticulturalist) and Angelos Latridis (oenologist).  Privately owned they seek to make the most of indigenous grapes such as Malagouzia and Xinomavro, sometimes in combination with international varietals such as Syrah and Merlot.  The dense and complex Xinomavro Reserve Vielles Vignes 2009 makes a compelling case for this varietal to be more well known and available.

Alpha-Xinomaphro

On hand to help explain the story of Greek wines was Konstaninos Lazarakis MW, who led a tasting masterclass together with Luca Gardini (who discussed Emilia Romangna).  Konstaninos’ deep knowledge of Greek wines was combined with some light-hearted storytelling – an ideal way to keep the audience interested.

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Winegrape Cultivar Mix in Galicia’s Five Denominaciónes de Origen

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Galicia-D.OGalicia has five Denominaciónes de Origen (D.O.) for wine, of which Rias Baixas has the largest vineyard area, produces the most grapes and has the most wineries.  Rias Baixas’ success has been based on producing fruity, refreshing, dry white wines from the Albariño grape cultivar. Also increasingly featuring on the international radar are red and white wines from Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras and Monterrei.  Part of their attraction is their use of indigenous grape cultivars, which give many of the wines an attractive and welcome flavour profile change from that of the more commonly encountered international winegrapes.

The most important indigenous cultivars are Albariño, Godello and Treixadura (whites) and Mencia (black).  Many other cultivars may be permitted according to D.O. regulations, but are usually encountered in only small amounts.  The following pie charts show the compositional makeup of each of Gallicia’s D.O.s based on 2013 harvest information.  For Ribeiro, limited information only allows a split between black and white cultivars to be made.  Also included for comparative purposes is the 2013 harvest composition for the Bierzo wine region which, although located in Castilla y Leon, is contiguous with Valdeorras.

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Ribeiro-Grape-Composition-2Ribeira-Sacra-Cultivars-201Monterrei-Grape-Comp-2013aValdeorras-Grape-ProductionBierzo-Harvest-Comp-2013a

The Bierzo Formula: Same Cultivars, Fewer Vines, More Bodegas

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Amidst the Old World vineyard restructuring, Spain stands out as the country that has lost most vineyard in the 21st century (Anderson, 2013).  Most of Spain’s losses have occurred outside of Denominación de Origen (D.O.) regions. Yet with high labour costs and pressure on prices, the more remote D.O. wine regions have had no option but to change the way that they operate.

Bierzo-Harvest-Composition-D.O. Bierzo is located in the far northwest of Castilla y León, with vineyards adjoining Galicia’s Valdeorras wine region.  The 2013 harvest in Bierzo totalled 13.2 million kg and is notable for the large percentage of Mencia (75%) with the next largest cultivar being Palomino (15%).  Although there is a trend for replacing (low quality) Palomino with (now fashionable) Godello, this does not seem to be occurring with particular haste.  This is somewhat surprising given the success that the likes of Rafael Palacios and Valdesil have had with Godello in Valdeorras.  Although Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have been planted here since at least 1997 (González-Fernández et al., 2012), they are permitted only on an experimental basis and to date have had no significant impact.  Bierzo remains very much a Mencia-based wine region.

Bierzo-Grower-NumbersAlthough there has been little change in the cultivar mix, there has still been considerable activity in restructuring Bierzo’s vineyard.  In 2002 the total vineyard was 4,100 ha, but this had shrunk to 3,045 ha by 2012 – a reduction of 26%.  The number of growers has declined even more rapidly from 5,186 in 2002 to 2,634 in 2012. As a result holdings per grower has increased from an average of 0.8 ha/grower to an average of 1.2 ha/grower over the same period.  No doubt to management consultants this represents much needed efficiency savings, but these changes of necessity must also have had an associated human cost.

Bierzo-Wine-ProducersOn a more cheerful note, Bierzo has seen a considerable increase in the number of bodegas during the 21st century.  Whilst a considerable amount of fruit is still sent to co-operative ventures, a fast-growing trend is the establishment of small bodegas being developed by younger enthusiastic entrepreneurs.  This is evidenced by the number of wineries which undertake their own bottling, which has risen from 27 in 2002 to 57 in 2012.  Domain Tares (2000), Bodega Peique (2001), and Bodega del Abad (2003) are examples of quality-orientated wineries established this century which have already made something of a name for themselves.

Bierzo-Export-VolumesSo will Bierzo’s approach of producing less wine of higher quality from smaller wineries using an established grape cultivar mix prove to be a long-term success?  It’s by no means guaranteed but, for wine lovers interested in trying something different, Bierzo offers unusual often delicious wines at attractive prices.  Although export volumes are small, the growth of exports suggests that Bierzo wines will soon become more widely available at independent wine stores.

 

How the Beaujolais Wine Region has Evolved in the 21st Century

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Beaujolais has many claims to being regarded as a classic wine region, but it’s one which has had its fair share of difficulties during the 21st century.  Continuing urban sprawl, low wine prices and Europe’s decreasing interest in the Beaujolais Nouveau campaign have all contributed to what has been described as a Crisis Viticole. This has led to difficult, sometimes tragic, human consequences for winegrowers.

As the official body for Beaujolais wines, Inter Beaujolais have been keenly promoting the region through participation in trade fairs, tastings and masterclasses.  They have kindly released basic data on vineyard area, production and sales which help paint a picture of how the region has developed during the early 21st century.

Beaujolais-Historical-VineyVineyard prices in Beaujolais have dropped significantly over the past 20 years  According to Lyon Capital, the price of generic Beaujolais vineyard has fallen on average from €38,000/ha in 1990 to €13,900 in 2010.  Over the same period the average sales price of Beaujolais Villages vineyard has fallen from €49,800 to €12,700.   Beginning in 2005, winegrowers were offered a compensation of €6,300/ha if they chose to pull up their vines.  With seemingly grim prospects, a number of winegrowers decided to quit.  This had the effect of reducing the total Beaujolais vineyard from around 23,000 ha in 2005 to around 17,000 ha today.  Most of the vines uprooted were located within generic Beaujolais vineyards (down ca. 34% since 2005) and Beaujolais Villages vineyards (down ca. 30% since 2005).  Beaujolais Crus vineyards have lost only ca. 7% of their area since 2005.

Beaujolais-Production Vintage effects have a marked impact on wine production from the region.  The European heatwave of 2003 resulted in a much smaller harvest (and also one with higher than normal sugar contents).  Wine production for Beaujolais totalled only 0.85 million hl in 2003, against an average of 1.3 million hl for the two years either side.  2012 was a particularly small harvest owing to a cold winter, spring frosts, and a damp, hail-prone, summer.  Aside from vintage variation, longer term trends in wine production are taking place as a result of the loss of vineyard area.  These changes have significantly altered the wine production profile of the Beaujolais region.  So, for example in 2011, for the first time more Beaujolais Crus wine was produced than generic Beaujolais wine.

Beaujolais-wine-yieldsFor some wine commentators, the future of Beaujolais lies not with its well known (but arguably devalued) Beaujolais Nouveau, but with its10 Crus AOPs.  In this regard there has been much talk about the Crus producing concentrated wines from low yielding vines.  Yet the available statistics seem to tell a different story.  Over the period from 2002 to 2012, white wine production (which is tiny) has been produced, as would be expected, at significantly higher yields than for red wines. Meanwhile average yields for generic Beaujolais, Beaujolais Villages and Beaujolais Crus have historically shown little difference and there have been a number of years (e.g. 2006-2009) when the average yields from Beaujolais Crus have been higher than those from generic Beaujolais!  The future of the Beaujolais wine region may turn out to be determined largely by quality-minded producers located within the Beaujolais Crus.  But isn’t it time to drop the simplistic association of yield and quality?

WineStats would like to thank Charles Rimbaud and his colleagues at Inter Beaujolais for providing the vineyard area and wine production data used in this article.

Evolution of Northern Spain’s D.O. Navarra Vineyard

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The Autonomous Community of Navarra in northern Spain extends from just south of the Ebro River, northwards to the French border in the Pyranees.  Wine growing is restricted to the southern half of the Community and becomes more concentrated near to the Ebro. Vines are divided geographically into two Denominacións de Origen (D.O.), with approximately one third belonging to D.O. Rioja and approximately two thirds belonging to the contiguous D.O. Navarra.

Navarra-Vineyard-area-by-coWine growing in the region of D.O. Navarra dates back to Roman times and flourished in the Middle Ages.  Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago were both consumers and advocates of the wine, which became well known throughout northern Spain.  The vineyard had to be replanted in the early 20th century following the arrival of Phylloxera in 1892.  The new vineyards on American rootstocks were given over almost entirely to Garnacha, whereas the pre-Phylloxera vineyard is believed to have been much more diverse, though details are sketchy.

For most of the 20th century, the wine industry in Navarra was dominated by co-operatives who produced much bulk wine for export.  Garnacha Tinta with its drought tolerance and high yields, was largely treated as a workhorse grape.  In 1974, Garnacha Tinta made up 93% of the then 25,016 ha of vineyards.  Much of the fruit was vinified to produce rosé wines, destined to be drunk not long after production and often showing oxidised notes.  White cultivars then totalled 650 ha, roughly 2.5% of the D.O. Navarra vineyard.

Garnacha-vs-TempranilloSince 1990 the overall size of the D.O. Navarra vineyard has ebbed and flowed in response to economic factors.  In response to changing consumer taste, winemakers have shifted from Garnacha-based rosés to red table wines based on a broader grape palate.  To achieve this, many Garnacha vines have been removed and new cultivars, especially Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, introduced into the D.O. Navarra vineyard.   From 23,336 ha in 1974, to ca. 10,000 ha in 1995 to 2,632 ha in 2012, the removal of Garnacha has been ruthless and relentless.

Part of the transformation has been facilitated by the increasing availability of irrigation water which, in 2005, meant that for the first time more vineyard area was irrigated than dry farmed.  This has given farmers greater opportunity to plant non-Garnacha cultivars, as well as non-vine crops.

Navarra-Vineyard-ComparisonThe D.O. Navarra vineyard of 2012 is almost unrecognisable compared to how it was composed forty years previously.  Is this a good thing?  If you hold to the view that a region’s vineyard composition reflects centuries of experimentation by small farmers and gradual selection of cultivars to those most suitable to the available terroir, then this could be the stuff of nightmares.  Much of the work on determining suitable cultivars and clones has taken place in the last 25 years at La Estación de Viticultura y Enología de Navarra (EVENA).  There can be do denying that the region is now producing many excellent wines, especially full-bodied reds.  Navarra has reinvented itself and is now an exciting wine region producing wines in a variety of styles and at a range of price points.  Let’s hope that climate change does not scupper the ambitions of experimental viticulturalists and wine producers alike.