Region could sparkle as top wine producer
DORSET, Devon and Cornwall could soon be home to British fizz that could rival champagne, according to academics.
Scientists say the counties have the ideal conditions to produce consistent quality wines to beat the French at their own game.
Other potential wine-growing hotspots include Essex, Suffolk, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and the Vale of Glamorgan.
Climate and viticulture experts from the University of East Anglia identified the areas of the UK that could rival the Champagne region of France because of climate change.
They identified nearly 35,000 hectares of prime viticultural land for new and expanding vineyards.
Prof 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 vin- tage 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 50sq m plot of land in England and Wales for suitability.
The vineyard hectarage has increased 246 per cent, from 722 to 2,500ha, since 2004, when sparkling wine began 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 the growing season from April to October.
However, the UK is located between the mid-latitude westerly wind belt on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and the influences of mainland Europe and is therefore sensitive to minor changes in the posi- tioning 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 at 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 Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. 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 growing season temperature – only 10 per cent of vineyards were currently located in areas with highest GST values – sunshine hours, April and May air frosts, and rainfall (seasonally and in June).
Lead author, Dr Alistair Nesbitt, said: “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.”
A vineyard in the Champagne region of France