The number of new vineyards planted in Sussex led me to look up the statistics kept by the English Wine Producers – the trade body for English vineyards – recording the number of hectares planted for commercial scale wine production county by county. For anyone interested in vines, wines and grapes the figures for the leading counties are as follows: West Sussex, 208 hectares (1 hectare equals 2.47 acres); Kent, 144 hectares; Surrey, 107; East Sussex, 91; Hampshire, 88; Essex, 79; Devon, 52, Suffolk, 38; Gloucestershire, 35; Cornwall, 30; Isle of Wight, 29; Oxfordshire, 23. Some 55% of grapes harvested go into the making of white wine, 25% to sparkling, 10% to rosé and 10% to red wine.
While investment and planting had slowed by the millennium, it has now regained new impetus. Through practise in the 1970s-1980s the industry came to realise that selection of varieties associated with the cooler wine-growing region of Germany, for example, Müller Thurgau, Bacchus, Reichensteiner, were not necessarily best suited to the climate of what is broadly termed the south-east. Selection instead from varieties associated with the climate and soils of the Champagne region, just over the English Channel, has not only led to success but provided the spur to renewed acquisition of land and the planting of yet larger vineyards.
One gold medal wining organic grower I know, working in an old walled garden on the High Weald, regretted planting Müller Thurgau in times previous, which, yes, has won him gold, but, were highly susceptible to mildew. Combating mildew required spraying with copper which kills earthworms and in the long term disrupts the relationship between plants and the life of the soil they grow in. Now, with hindsight he wishes he had planted Seyre-Villard, Seyval Blanc, ironically dubbed ‘Save-All’ because of its capacity to produce crops when other varieties fail.
Climate and soil side though, the commercial scale wine-producer in these islands is severely disadvantaged by cheap subsidised imports from abroad.
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