The vineyard area of England & Wales has increased every year since 2004 according to official figures in the UK Vineyard Registry which is maintained by the Food Standards Agency.
For 2012, the total vineyard area of England & Wales was estimated to be 1,438 ha, of which 90% was bearing. The vineyard expansion which has occurred in the current cycle since 2004 differs from previous plantings in several key aspects. These include the scale of investment, rate of planting and increased use of technology to map soils and ensure precise planting patterns. Yet the most important and long-lasting change is in the choice of cultivars that have been planted.
In 2004 the UK’s most planted cultivar was the hybrid varietal Seyval Blanc (94 ha) followed by the German crossing Reichensteiner (89 ha). Plantings of Chardonnay at that time were a mere 36 ha. Fast forward to 2013 and Chardonnay has become the UK’s most planted cultivar with 327 ha, closely followed by Pinot Noir with 307 ha. The spectacular growth of these two cultivars follows the recognition of the very high quality potential of the English sparkling wine category. Almost all recent investment into the English wine industry has been directed towards sparkling wine and the cultivars of choice are those used so successfully in Champagne.
Whereas Chardonnay and Pinot Noir made up 13% of the UK’s vineyard in 2004, by 2013 they occupied 44% of a much larger national vineyard. The English wine industry is very much nailing its colours to the mast of sparkling wine and, judging by the quality from producers such as Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Camel Valley, this looks to be a very sound move indeed.
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.
According 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.
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.
The 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.