A record number of champagne and sparkling wine bottles were bought this year in the UK – 164 million, to be more precise reported the Guardian. While Brexit feeds the flames of economic uncertainty and high street retailers continue to go out of business, the wine industry seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much.
Previously dominated by champagne, the sparkling wine market in the UK now includes increasing proportions of cava, prosecco, and crémant. While sparkling wine, in general, experienced a 10% growth in sales in 2018 as compared to 2017, prosecco sales went up by 47%, and crémant sales went up by a staggering 300% as consumers became aware of the impressive value for the price offered by crémant.
What’s even more promising for the wine industry in the UK is the increasing use of home-grown grapes from English vineyards. The heatwave this summer provided optimal conditions for grapes grown on English vines, allowing more bottles of higher quality wine to be sold throughout the region. This means a greater number of new customers have now experienced firsthand the quality English wines have to offer. In fact, at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in November, Ridgeview Wine Estate in Sussex was named the world’s best winemaker – a first for a UK vineyard. And Camel Valley of Cornwall has issued the Royal Warrant in April – also a first for a UK vineyard.
With Brexit posing a host of unknown problems and uncertainties for the future of UK’s international trade relations in all industry segments, an increase in popularity for a locally-grown and produced product may also act as a bit of a failsafe for wine lovers. Chief executive of Ridgeview Wine Estate, Tamara Roberts, said British eyes are opening “to the quality that’s coming out of England”.
Britons may have limited choices in foreign wines in the coming years, and English vineyards like Ridgeview are poised to step in and fill the void. Ridgeview plans to build a whole other winery next year, and they plan to increase output by a full 100% in 2019. The family-owned company is making its own legacy and competing with the very best of the world’s wine dynasties, getting inquiries from German, Belgian, Italian, and Irish distributors since winning the world’s best winemaker award, which would add to their every-growing market presence that already spans the US, China, Japan, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands noted the Guardian.
Of course, it will take time for the UK-at-large to come around to the quality found in English wines. Historically, locally produced wines haven’t been found next to Italian, French, and Spanish bottles in the aisles of Tesco. So, consumers have always assumed the quality of English wines still hasn’t caught up to the quality of wines found elsewhere. That’s no longer the case, but it can take a long time to convince die-hard wine connoisseurs of that and win market share from entrenched rivals from other countries suggests the Guardian.
To help the industry continue on its current growth path, Roberts would like to see more backing from the government, similar to subsidies given to the agriculture industry. She feels that, owing to the tremendous amount of skilled labor that wineries employ and the huge amounts of tax revenue derived from their products, this only makes sense. Visionaries like her believe the wineries in England have the long-term potential to be considered tourist destinations just like wineries found in France, New Zealand, and Argentina. The government should do everything they can to support plans like these, potentially boosting more than one industry in the process.
The UK government may want to heed her words. Each bottle of sparkling wine sold in the UK generates £2.77 in tax revenue for the government. That’s a contribution of over £454 million to the government’s coffers. And it’s only projected to grow in the future. Other agriculture-based businesses employ lower-skilled, more transient, workers and may be seen by some as more of a drain on the economy than a boom. So maybe it’s only logical that wineries get the same preferential treatment.
Even without government assistance, though, the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. 64 wineries opened in the UK in 2016, followed by 80 more in 2017. While the government may not be tuned into the buzz surrounding English wineries quite yet, investors certainly are. With a growing market share, and as a cheaper investment than foreign wineries, UK wineries are becoming a trendy investment to make.
As one of the UK’s fastest-growing business segments, the wine industry has increased its national footprint by 135% over the last ten years. And the market is attracting more and more new entrants that are starting out in the industry more as hobbyists than anything else. Degrees in viticulture and oenology are being pursued at Plumpton College by city slickers deciding to leave their corporate desks for more rural pursuits noted the Drink business.