The fast-growing success of Britain’s wine industry

Hotter summers are great for the nation’s winemakers, says Chris Carter. But land for vineyards is selling at a premium – expect to pay up to £25,000 an acre for the best spots.

Britain is getting warmer. This year’s record-breaking 40.3°C, recorded at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, followed years of hotter summers – the ten warmest years in Britain have occurred since 2002.

That is, however, good news for Britain’s wine growers. English sparkling wine already competes with the best Champagne has to offer and regularly wins international awards. When it comes to reds, however, the climate is still too cold and clammy. Not for much longer, says a recent paper in the viticulture science journal OENO One.

By 2040, more sunshine and less rainfall will make pinot noir, the mainstay of Burgundy reds, viable in the south of England, while areas further north will be opened up to the production of other wines, according to the authors from the Climate Resilience in the UK Wine Sector project. That may seem like a long way away, but the time it takes for vines to mature means wine growers need to decide now which wines to make in 2040.

Land for vineyards is at a premium

The area under vine in Britain has expanded by 70% in the last five years, according to the trade body WineGB. Even prestigious French producers have made the hop across the Channel. “This boom in UK wine has translated to strong demand for land suitable for planting vines and there is no sign of this letting up,” says Nick Watson of Strutt & Parker. The property consultancy’s viticulture wing has seen even hobbyists come knocking at its doors, along with those looking to start new winemaking ventures on 20 to 30 acres or more.

That puts land suitable for growing vines at a premium, due to the requirements of climate and terroir. Free-draining, sunny, south-facing slopes below 100 metres above sea level, that are sheltered from winds and late frosts, “must be proactively sought out and purchased privately”, says Watson. And while most arable land sells for up to £10,000 an acre, budding wine growers can expect to pay up to £25,000 an acre for the best spots in Sussex and Kent. An acre already planted with vines commands up to £35,000.

One such vineyard is for sale with Cheffins, with a £2m guide price. Chilford Hall, outside Cambridge, is one of England’s oldest established commercial vineyards. Its 22-acre vineyard (18 are under vine) comes with a winery, wine-making equipment and around 45,000 bottles of wine produced on the estate.

The late Sam Alper, designer of the Sprite caravan and founder of the Little Chef restaurant chain, established the vineyard in 1972. Since then, Chilford Hall’s wines have scooped up WineGB awards, and the estate today produces up to 18,000 bottles of red, white, rosé and sparkling wines. The seller, Alper’s widow, Fiona, feels it’s time to move on and is looking for “someone with passion and energy” to take over. Judging by the trends in British winemaking, she should have no trouble finding a buyer.

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