Climate change is rapidly reshaping U.K.’s wine industry

We are ready to point the hottest year on record, thanks to climate change, and this has had a major impact on industries that cannot raise their stakes and act to avoid it, such as the wine industry. Regions that have long been at the helm of world-famous wine fermentation, like Italysaw their volumes decline due to extreme weather conditions impacting grape yields and quality.

As the dynamics of the wine industry begin to change, one country has emerged as a surprise winner. Britain has a long winemaking history, with some estimates dating back to the 11th century. Yet it never rose to prominence as a wine capital alongside its European peers, who offered higher quality and more variety – and the less than ideal climate for growing grapes in Britain was one of the reasons.

However, as global temperatures have risen, conditions in the UK have become better suited to growing certain grape varieties, paving the way for a sprawling wine industry. Warmer temperatures have allowed British grapes to mature better and therefore improve the quality of the wine.

“Historically, English wine has not had a very popular or positive reputation,” said Jonathan White, marketing director at Gusbourne Estates, which has vineyards in Kent and West Sussex. Fortune in an interview. The property planted its first vines almost two decades ago.

“The wine generally wasn’t very good and wasn’t made by fantastic wine professionals and winemakers who knew what they were doing,” he said. But, White added, planting the right mix of grape varieties, with the help of warmer temperatures, has given the wine business its newfound fame.

“Interest in the UK wine sector is as strong as we can remember: over the last 12 months the number of calls we have received from people interested in either purchasing a vineyard or the creation of a new vineyard, has tripled,” said Nick Watson, director of viticulture at Strutt & Parker, a UK-based property consultancy, wrote in a June report.

The number of vineyards in the country has increased 80% over the past six years to more than 900, while acres in production have seen similar growth, the group found. Although this is tiny compared to some of the EU wine capitals, Great Britain is carving out a place for itself in an industry long dominated by historic centers.

Boom and bloom

The impact of climate change on the wine industry has been gradual, but significant. In France, for example, for several years, irregular climatic conditions have reshaped the wine sector, altering the quality of the grapes produced. And last month, the data published by Copa-Cogecaa European agricultural lobby, saw wine harvests fall by 8.6% and 11.92% in Portugal and Italy respectively.

(Don’t worry about wine shortages, though. There has long been a glut of European wine, known as “wine lake.” This year, the French government announced it would set aside $200 million for destroy surplus wine and offer profits to producers in a context of collapsing prices and falling demand for wine.)

Although climate change is nothing to cheer about, the slow decline of wine production in some regions has been a gain for Britain. Linda Johnson-Bell, wine expert and founder of consultancy The Wine and Climate Change Institute (TWACCI), said: Fortune that the British climate now resembles that of Bordeaux or Champagne in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Now it’s just a shared meal, every month brings its new disaster,” she said, referring to these French regions today.

In addition to climatic conditions, the informal nature of regulations has contributed to the development of the British wine industry. Europe follows specific regulations governing the wine productionincluding the type of varieties that should be used to make specific formulations and the use of certain corks on sparkling wine bottles.

“We don’t have those constraints,” said Watson of Strutt & Parker. Fortune. Earlier this year, the UK announced it would scrap EU wine production requirements, which it said were stifling innovation, and could release £180m into the local wine economy.

“Good land for planting is relatively cheaper than that purchased in established wine regions from old world wine producers. So it’s quite attractive from a cost of entry perspective and the potential to produce good quality wines,” Watson said.

The change in temperature in the UK has been particularly beneficial for the cultivation of certain varieties, and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the three grape varieties used to make traditional Champagne, are currently the most widely planted in Britain , according to data from industry body WineGB.

“As the climate changes, there is currently an opportunity for excellent sparkling wine,” said Martin Lukac, professor of ecosystem science at the University of Reading. Fortune. He added that this has been lucrative for players in the wine sector as margins are higher in sparkling varieties than in their still counterparts.

“Farmers are like any other business; they need to make a profit to be able to support themselves,” Lukac said, adding that yields have attracted interest in recent years. WineGB expects wine production to double over the next 10 years, from 12.2 million bottles in 2022 to 24.7 million in 2032.

Even though the UK is a relatively new player in the traditional wine industry, it does not compete in the market for cheap or low quality drink varieties. Johnson-Bell of TWACCI said Fortune that winemakers in England, Scotland and Wales are not interested in supermarket wines.

“A lot of them are artisanal, they don’t want to mass produce commercial products. [wine],” she says.

Gusbourne is an example of this: the estate maintains its yield targeted and low to ensure that the quality of the wine is not compromised.

“We’re very focused on making the art of winemaking truly about craftsmanship,” said White of Gusbourne Estates, adding that Gusbourne values ​​quality over quantity. The estate exports approximately 30% of its wines to 35 international territories, including Norway, Japan and the United States. Britain is now also home to several award-winning wines.

Making Every Vine Count

Being in the wine business is no easy task: it takes years of tending the vines before the grapes can be harvested and turned into ready-to-drink alcohol. The work is also extremely capital intensive, Watson points out, and involves expenses including purchasing and managing thousands of acres of land to ensure it is suitable for growing grapes.

“When we add up all these criteria, the ideal areas for viticulture are actually much smaller than we might imagine,” he said. “So the cash flow is very demanding and so it’s quite an expensive business to start.”

The phenomenon that is catalyzing the growth of the UK wine industry – climate change – is changing rapidly. Johnson-Bell, which works on international projects regarding the impact of climate change on wine production, sees a huge window of opportunity, but also changing given the rapid pace of climate change.

“The biggest problem here is that the window in which a grape variety is viable is getting shorter and shorter,” she said, adding that she advises her clients to grow grape varieties that can adapt to temperatures warmer. “The real problem will be how to sustain this industry. »

Despite these obstacles, British wine is doing better than ever. Exports and foreign interest have continued to grow, as has recognition of the industry.

“British winemaking has become a much more professional, well-capitalized and well-invested business,” Watson said. And as weather conditions continue to provide fruitful grape yields, the industry appears poised to thrive. “We are now fully capable of producing an excellent quantity of quality grapes. »

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