The first is that most wineries are very small and cannot produce the volume to meet the cheap price bracket UK consumers want (around £6.00 a bottle). They are therefore making wines for a niche market that spends £15-35 on a bottle. It has entered a very crowded market and apart from top restaurants in the SE rarely appears on restaurants lists particularly the pub sector. Most of them are reliant on cellar door/online sales plus a few sales in local small retail outlets.
As for the recent huge expansion; that worries me. The mantra that we can now ripen Pinot noir, Chardonnay etc., because of climate change is a dilemma. Climate change is globally bad news. It is also not linear. Last summer bad spring frosts and a dreadful September were two factors that contributed to a very poor harvest. But even now, our cool damp climate means a constant fight against rot and mildew. Heavy spraying is inevitable. Also relentless green harvesting a leaf stripping adds to vineyard costs.
As for investment and profit, please go and look on companies house website at balance sheets and P&L of the major players. Many of them do not make happy reading. As for the latest project mentioned in the VM article, I suspect the owner will not see any return on its huge investment for 20 years. The accounts filed so far show a year on year ever increasing loss.
Having tasted many English wines I think there are some very good ones, but quite a few mediocre and indifferent efforts. From what I have read, and tasted, there are I suspect quite a few who have planted vineyards in the last few years who don’t really know what they are doing.
The VM article left me with the impression that WineGB thinks the recent increase in vineyards and wineries is “a good thing.” Regrettably, I think that for quite a few recent entrants it will end in tears.
I am sorry to sound pessimistic. I know from my own experience that there are some very good English wines, and some very good winemakers. Whether they are making any money is a different matter. I wish this latest £100m venture in Kent the very best of luck. It is going to need it, and a lot more besides.
The incredible expansion plans seem largely predicated on ‘climate change’ to ripen the classic sparkling wine (Champenois) grape varieties. I wonder how many ‘poor’ vintages the industry will stand before the money-men want out? It just doesn’t strike me as the right level of growth for an industry that has continually talked itself up for several years. If I hear the phrase ‘English sparkling wine voted better than Champagne’ one more time I might just explode. I think the fellow making the Charmat, Prosecco lookalike has the best idea.
The question of whether the money men will want out, will depend entirely on the terms they enter into with the borrowers. As the owner/borrower is a limited company it either raises money through borrowing usually from a bank or issuing share capital or both.
Provided the company can service the loans all will be well.
A bank loan will be secured on company assets and/or directors’ personal guarantees. Let’s hope the value of the security will cover a loan shortfall should that unfortunate contingency ever arise.
My experience of wines in pubs is it is not so much that they serve bad wine but they do serve wine badly.
Generally pubs, and quite a few restaurants get their wine from a single wholesaler for discount reasons. It all revolves around price. Most English still wines cannot get anywhere near the price bracket. They may occasionally offer an English local sparkling wine.
The price bracket for English Sparkling wines has always been a problem. Yes, quality can be good (reserve excellent for truly excellent, please), but when you look into the outside world and mute the scene that celebrates itself for a moment, what you will discover is (particularly in South Africa and Napa) wines that are years ahead of anything you will find in the UK (even in cooler places like Sonoma Coast AVA, which takes in some chilly winds from the Pacific).
If global warming is how the bet on the future of English wine is being hedged, you really have to think long and hard about where that future lies.
PS: we have been doing (blind) tastings of ESW versus Napa and Cap Classique cuvees (all NV) with our friends for a while now (at least 5 years).
I keep going back and trying ESW and (with notable exceptions for Black Chalk and Camel Valley) I always end up thinking that it’s nice - but I could get so much more for my money from other areas. Chapel Down have been driving down their prices and are engaged in this huge investment, and I do wonder whether their intention is to split the field: a small number of high priced single vintage wines, and then the creation of some sort of £12ish entry level wine - probably an evolution of their Bacchus fizz, with prices driven down by scale. I could just about see that working.
Absolutely - but I don’t think they as an individual producer want (or need) to scale up. I can see the point of other players doing so though, if only because it’s now too crowded at the £25-£40 price point so if they want to grow as a business they will have to either go higher or lower (which will only work with scale).
I’ve enjoyed several glasses of CV’s ESW on their terrace, highly recommended.
Strikes me, based on limited data admittedly, that there is often a degree of over-romanticism on the part of many producers over being a ‘winemaker’ (cynically in a couple of cases I think it verges on being a vanity project). There are some very good sparklers as long as you like acidity and the biggest, most commercially savvy, do a good job but there’s also a degree of getting carried away, for still wines at least, by the fairly rare but impressive examples.
Andrew also expertly identified many of the wider issues.
That’s a fact that is very difficult to overcome given the temperature, availability of sun / sunlight, cloud coverage, rain / humidity, and many other factors related to geography and weather. It’s a massive uphill battle to get an acceptable level of ripeness here on some of these grapes. The acidic spine of ESW will not be disappearing any time soon.
Still, when I see a bottle of Hambledon being sold (retail) at £60, it makes me stop and wonder.
Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall so couldn’t read it . However, I’m in agreement with much of what has been said already.
Relying on global warming in a marginal climate to ripen grapes in order to make mediocre ESW is just bat shit crazy.
There are some excellent ESWs about but the price of land, low production and the unpredictability of harvesting ripe and undiseased grapes in any given year makes it extremely difficult to build up reserve wine.
I don’t know what the future holds for ESW and still wine production but what I do know is I wouldn’t be forking out £30 for a sparkling wine that essentially tastes of nothing …… yes I’m looking at you Bloomsbury.