The arrival of English Wine Week (27th May to 4th June 2017) is a bit of a mixed blessing for English wine producers this year. On the one hand the industry is growing apace with a record 6.3 million bottles produced from the 2014 harvest, and the sparkling wines produced have begun to rival and even surpass their counterparts across the Channel in blind taste tests. In fact, the quality is so impressive that revered French Champagne house Taittinger has recently planted up 170 acres of land in Kent to start producing its own sparkling wine in England.
On the other hand, the 2017 season is looking to be a challenging one after destructive air frosts late in April caused catastrophic damage to the English wine crop and made national news headlines. It is undoubtedly a huge setback for an industry that was just beginning to enjoy great success, with some vineyards reporting that up to 80 percent of their buds had been killed off. But it wasn't just England that was affected: the frosts also decimated crops in some of Europe's most prestigious winemaking regions including Champagne and Burgundy, and even as far south as Tuscany.
In his recent blog, Nick Wenman, owner of the pioneering biodynamic Albury Vineyard (pictured), said this year's frosts have been 'a stark reminder of the difficulties faced by wine producers' in England, adding, "at this moment we are indeed asking ourselves whether we were mad to try and grow vines in England." However, he's optimistic that if the weather warms up and holds, there might be just enough time for secondary growth to come through – although this won't be as fruitful and will have less time to ripen.
But England's winemakers are used to searching for a silver lining. Despite the 2016 season getting off to a bad start with late frosts damaging buds, by harvest time vineyards were rejoicing in some of the highest-quality fruit they'd ever grown, despite having lost around half of the expected yield. So although this year's frosts are a major stumbling block, there's hope yet, and bodies like English Wine Producers, the organiser of English Wine Week, remain confident that projections of 50% growth for the industry by 2020 are achievable.
So what does this all mean for English winemakers and – more importantly – for English wine drinkers? Much of the sparkling wine that will be made from this year's crop won't hit the shelves until 2019 or 2020 and only time will tell how the vintage works out. The good news is that there are plenty of quaffable bottles available to toast English Wine Week available right now, and of course the best way to support the industry is to buy English wine.
Take the opportunity this English Wine to visit one of the vineyards below hosting open days and other events, and enjoy a chance to try some of the new releases, like Albury Vineyard's 2016 Silent Pool Rosé and Bluebell Vineyard's first barrel-aged 2013 Blanc de Blancs.
Tags: English wine
English Wine Week