Essex could one day grow grapes to rival Champagne’s, say experts

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Map shows the largest vineyards by hectre across the south east of England (source: Journal od Land Use Science)


Essex could soon be home to bottles of British fizz to best their rivals from Champagne, experts say.

East Anglia – particularly Essex and Suffolk- has the ideal conditions to produce consistent quality wines to beat the French at their own game, it’s claimed. 

Yet few vineyards are currently established in the counties and those that exist in Kent and Sussex and often in the wrong place, according to new research.

Other potential wine growing hotspots include The Vale of Glamorgan, Dorset and Hampshire, the Isle of Wright, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Devon and Cornwall.

Climate change is likely to improve the situation, driving warmer growing season temperatures in England and Wales, the study suggests. 

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Map shows the largest vineyards by hectre across the south east of England (source: Journal od Land Use Science)

Essex could soon be home to bottles of British fizz to best their rivals from Champagne, experts say. East Anglia, particularly Essex and Suffolk, have the ideal conditions to produce consistent quality wines to beat the French at their own game, it's claimed (stock image)

Essex could soon be home to bottles of British fizz to best their rivals from Champagne, experts say. East Anglia, particularly Essex and Suffolk, have the ideal conditions to produce consistent quality wines to beat the French at their own game, it’s claimed (stock image)

STUDY FINDINGS 

The research team, with help from wine producers, used new geographical analysis techniques to assess and grade every 165 x 165 ft plot of land in England and Wales for suitability.

In England and Wales, total vineyard size has increased 246 per cent from 1,780 to 6,200 acres since 2004, when sparkling wine started to dominate production.

Experts looked elevation, aspect, slope angle, land cover, soil characteristics, along with temperatures, spring frosts, rainfall, sunshine and solar radiation to create computer models.

Based on terrain alone the study identified Devon and Cornwall, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, Norfolk and Essex and Suffolk as the best regions for wine production.

But when climate was taken into account it identified Kent, Sussex Essex and Suffolk as the best regions to start new vineyards.

Viticulture experts from the University of East Anglia (UEA) identified the areas of the UK which could rival the Champagne region of France because of climate change.

They identified nearly 86,500 acres (35,000 hectares) of prime viticultural land for new and expanding vineyards – much of it in Kent, Sussex and East Anglia.

Professor Steve Dorling, of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: ‘English and Welsh vineyards are booming and their wine is winning international acclaim.

‘This summer’s heatwave has led to a record grape harvest and a vintage year for English and Welsh wine, prompting great interest in investment and land opportunities.

‘But despite a trend of warming grape-growing seasons, this season has been quite unusual in terms of weather.

‘English and Welsh grape yields are generally quite low and variable by international standards, so we wanted to identify the best places to plant vineyards and improve the sector’s resilience to the UK’s often fickle weather.’ 

The research team, with help from wine producers, used new geographical analysis techniques to assess and grade every 165 x 165 ft (50 x 50 m) plot of land in England and Wales for suitability.

In England and Wales, the size of vineyards has increased 246 per cent from 1,780 to 6,200 acres (722 to 2,500 hectares) since 2004, when sparkling wine started to dominate production.

The boom in English and Welsh wines has been due in part to climate change which has resulted in the warming of growing season from April to October raising average temperatures (GSTs).

Few vineyards are currently established in the counties that are best suited to growing wine grapes. Other potential hotspots include The Vale of Glamorgan, Dorset and Hampshire, the Isle of Wright, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Devon and Cornwall (stock image)

Few vineyards are currently established in the counties that are best suited to growing wine grapes. Other potential hotspots include The Vale of Glamorgan, Dorset and Hampshire, the Isle of Wright, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Devon and Cornwall (stock image)

However the UK is located between the mid-latitude westerly wind belt on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the continental influences of mainland Europe and is therefore sensitive to minor changes in the positioning of major atmospheric pressure systems.

This can affect yields, so the study set out to look at regional and micro climates that could affect production to identity the ideal places for new vineyards.

It looked elevation, aspect, slope angle, land cover, soil characteristics, along with temperatures, spring frosts, rainfall, sunshine and solar radiation to create computer models.

Based on terrain alone the study identified Devon and Cornwall, North Yorkshire, Hampshire, Norfolk and Essex and Suffolk.

But when climate was taken into account it identified Kent, Sussex Essex and Suffolk as the best regions to start new vineyards.

Applying the model to existing vineyards in England and Wales, the sub-optimal positioning of most vineyards was found in relation to GST, sunshine hours, April & May air frosts, and rainfall – both seasonally and in June.

WHY ARE GRAPEVINES RESISTANT TO DROUGHT?

Frequent droughts impede plants’ systems for transporting water from the roots to the stems and leaves, causing ‘hydraulic failure’.

A plant’s ability to transport water to its leaves is one of the most important factors in its ability to survive.

Scientists have now found that grapevines from the world’s top wine regions, including Napa and Bordeaux, are more resistant to drought than most plants.

The grapevines almost never experience a full failure of their water transport systems, and are rarely at risk of ‘hydraulic failure’.

This is because the more dry the plants become, the more they frequently they close tiny pores in their leaves called ‘stoma’ to stop water-loss.

Grapevines also store more water in their stems during the growing season to prepare for dry seasons, researchers found.

Only 10 per cent of vineyards were currently located in areas with highest GST values.

Lead author Dr Alistair Nesbitt said: ‘Interestingly, some of the best areas that we found are where relatively few vineyards currently exist such as in Essex and Suffolk – parts of the country that are drier, warmer and more stable year-to-year than some more established vineyard locations.

‘The techniques we used enabled us to identify areas ripe for future vineyard investments, but they also showed that many existing vineyards are not that well located, so there is definitely room for improvement and we hope our model can help boost future productivity.

‘Entering into viticulture and wine production in England and Wales isn’t for the faint hearted – the investment required is high and risks are significant.

‘But as climate change drives warmer growing season temperatures in England and Wales, this new viticulture suitability model allows, for the first time, an objective and informed rapid assessment of land at local, regional and national scales.’

The study was published in the Journal of Land Use Science.



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