UK wine industry is bubbling with confidence

Historically, the UK may not be famous for its wine production, but that’s set to change. This year, British wine producers will plant a record one million vines, which will give growers the tools to make two million more bottles of wine a year. Ideal Wine Company delves into the revelation.

It’s clear that wine is now one of the most impressive and fastest improving agricultural products in the country. During the last decade, according to reports from the English Wine Producers trade body, the grapevines planted in England and Wales have increased by around 135 per cent.

Ideal Wine Company british wine
Will England see more vineyards?

New planters all over the south of England

One of the biggest new vineyards is at Rathfinny wine estate in East Sussex. Close to Afriston, this vineyard has around 400 acres currently under cultivation. It’s owned by Mark Driver, who used to be a hedge fund manager in London. He intends to release the vineyard’s first sparkling wine next year (2018).

Other new planters include two huge champagne houses from France, Vrankin-Pommery Monopole and Taittinger. They’ve announced big wine projects in the south of England in Hampshire and Canterbury.

New UK wine awards introduced for 2017

Due to all of these exciting innovations within the UK, brand new annual wine awards have been introduced. Aimed at finding the UK’s finest wines, the awards are another sign of the industry’s prosperity.

One of the world’s biggest threats seems to have helped improve the growing season in England – global warming. The industry is now viable across the south of England, in some parts of the east and as far as Wales. It’s not the only reason that vineyards are able to be planted now though.

Technology is improving all the time and this is a big factor in the industry’s expansion. Wine growers use meters that can work out grape sugar levels so that wine growers can decide the best time to harvest the grapes. Better weather reports due to improving technology in that area also help the growers and wine makers to work within the famously changeable weather systems in the UK.

Consumers happy to spend more on UK wines

There’s also been a move from consumers to buying more expensive wines, meaning people are happier to buy English wines, which typically start at £10 a bottle. Typical prices for the best sparkling wines, like Nvetimber from West Sussex, sell for around £35.

UK wines have been selling more and more since 2000, with top tier supermarkets such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose now stocking dozens of different Welsh and English wines. Restaurants are helping the increase in sales too, as English wines are becoming more popular across the board.

Rob Graves is the head of wine and food buying at Harvey Nichols, arguably one of the finest retailers in England. He said: “Sales have been steadily increasing since 2011, but in 2016 we saw a peak in interest. Our customers are hugely supportive of this category and are keen to taste wines from lesser known producers.” Harvey Nichols has recently added four new producers and 15 new English wines to its shelves, from Litmus and Witson, Hattingley Valley and Gusbourne.

It seems the UK wine industry is set to grow and grow.

Gorgona: the Italian wine made by prisoners

The world of wine is evolving each day, how wine is made has stayed the same standardised process for hundreds of years. But who is making your wine? Ideal Wine Company discovers some of the truths behind one of the most highly sought of Italian Wines.

Ideal Wine Company vineyard
The makers behind your wine.

The makers

Just a short hour’s boat ride away from the Tuscan coastal town of Livorno, the island of Gorgona peacefully strides into view. The island is a fair distance from a mainland grocery store, therefore produce is grown on the island. Along with this is a small vineyard that produces some of Italy’s finest white wine. Made by prisoners that have committed some of Italy’s most serious crimes.

The island of Gorgona was established as a penal colony in 1869, today it houses 70 inmates who are in the final stages of their convictions. Prison authorities will receive numerous requests from inmates who wish to be transferred to Gorgona to escape from the overcrowded jail in Florence – in which prisoners will often be incarcerated in their cells for 22 hours a day.

The prisoners are locked up at night and work during the day, there is no physical boundary necessary between the prison and the village around the harbour – inmates are aware of the consequences should they break any rules. Vinified for the first time in 2012, the wine is the result of a partnership between the prison authorities and the Marchesi di Frescobaldi franchise. The company have been making wine for 700 years and produces 11 million bottles on its six Tuscan estates.

The vineyard

In 1989, a single hectare of vines had been planted, however they soon became overgrown and were abandoned. In 2008, an inmate with viticultural experience asked the prison director if he could revive the patch. He managed to save the plantings of white Vermentino and Ansonica as well as four rows of red grapes. In 2010, a wine was made by another inmate under supervision, however the wine was awful and the prison director realised they needed expert help.

At present the vineyard is in immaculate condition with rows of healthy vines stretching as far as can be seen. Frescobaldi employs 15 workers in the vineyard and winery, as well as having extra help at harvest time. They are paid he same union pay as those that work within Frescobaldi’s other wineries. This is a major upgrade for inmates who receive only a nominal salary for other jobs on the island. The aim of the prisoners being a part of the vineyard is so that they learn valuable skills that will help them on release.

Costs

The cost of the project is considerably higher than usual, the company pays €13,000 a year to rent the vineyard; as well as other investments for necessary equipment. Overall the investment costs €100,000 per year for a total production of 4,000 bottles.

The turnover of the staff is high, it is important that as many inmates as possible can benefit from the experience; which means continual training of new recruits. The level of productivity is not as high as it may be elsewhere in the industry. This is because the inmates are not accustomed to normal working after being in prison for long periods of time.

The wine has been served to Pope Francis and Italy’s president, as well as other high profile figures. It has turned out to be a great success due to the commitment of the management and workers.