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Raise a Toast: 2023 Was A Fantastic Year For English Wines

When it comes to choosing your sparkling wine suppliers, a product from England might not be the first option that you think of. This is understandable when champagne from France and prosecco from Italy have long been considered to be the crème de la crème of sparkling wines. 

However, 2023 was an exceptionally good year for English wine, with near-ideal conditions in some areas. The Guardian reports that sales of sparkling English wines have risen by 16% over the past year, while sales of champagne have fallen by 9%. 

One kent-based Vineyard, Chapel Down, has announced that it has increased sales of its core sparkling wine by 25% over the past year. Traditionally, England has imported the vast majority of its wines from abroad, particularly France and Spain, and more recently South America and New Zealand.

There have always been a small handful of vineyards in the south of England, but no commercial wine industry to speak of until the second half of the 20th century. New grape varieties, better technology, increasing scientific knowledge, and warmer temperatures due to climate change have meant that there is now a thriving wine industry. 

The terrain, climate and soil type in the English wine growing regions shares some similarities with Germany, so it is not surprising that some German grape varieties such as Reichensteiner and Schönburger are grown, alongside popular French and Italian varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

Sussex is the largest wine producing district in the UK, accounting for about a quarter of English wine production. Along with Kent, its climate is slightly warmer than the rest of the country, and although rainfall can still be high it’s also one of the drier regions. Hampshire and Surrey are also successful wine-producing regions, and East Anglia is up and coming.

Thanks to record conditions and increased vineyard acres in 2023, the English wine industry expects to produce up to 22 million bottles of wine this year, almost double the amount produced last year. The lack of heavy frosts in late winter and early spring, a warm June, a wet August and a heatwave in September added up to a perfect grape growing season.

Speaking to The Guardian, Nicola Bates, WineGB chief executive, said: “There was a silver lining to our miserable summer, and that is a fantastic season for wine. UK consumers are drinking more and more home produce and at the same time exports are going up, especially in the Nordics and Japan.”

The publication also reports that there is also an increase in land in production, with 420 acres added during the past year. The south of England now has a total of 3,400 hectares of vineyards, the highest number in modern history.

New technology is also boosting production, with 13% of grapes now gathered by machine rather than hand-picked, compared to 7% in 2023. There are now a total of 943 vineyards across the UK, with this number expected to grow steadily over the next decade.

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