Thousands of hectares of 'prime' English vineyard sites have been identified by a University of East Anglia team investigating the UK wine industry's resilience to climate change.
Researchers said Friday (9 November) they had identified 33,700 hectares of ‘prime’ UK land suitable for vineyards; most of which had yet to be planted.
Many of the potential vineyard sites identified are in Kent, Sussex and East Anglia, according to the University of East Anglia, which led the research.
Its team, writing in the Journal of Land Use Science, said that the study was aimed at improving the UK wine sector’s resilience, breadth and productivity in the face of climate change driving warmer growing season temperatures.
‘Many existing vineyards are sub-optimally located,’ according to the study’s findings. The amount of land under vine in England and Wales has risen by 246%, to 2,500, hectares since 2004.
While the news demonstrates global warming’s possible advantages for more northerly growers, it inevitably highlights risks for existing producers.
Asked whether vineyard owners in mainland Europe might want to reconsider their future, lead researcher, Dr Alistair Nesbitt, warned against jumping to conclusions.
Although warming conditions and changing weather patterns are clearly opening new doors, he said it’s impossible yet to judge the impact on current production.
‘Mainly because we don’t know the adaptive capacity of the grapes and vines, nor of the regions or growers.’
As an example, he said that while Merlot grapes clearly perform well in different countries, that flexibility might not continue in changing weather conditions.
His observation also suggests that areas with less rigid rules might more agile in their response.
Although Nesbitt would not be drawn on whether rule-bound Bordeaux might, for example, fare badly compared to the more flexible New World, he said different reactions would produce different results. ‘In Australia for example, they use sunscreens, water mists or irrigation, which you might not be able to use in Europe.’
Looking ahead, Nesbitt said his team would shortly begin modelling other wine regions, both in the UK and Europe – although the specific areas would not be named until early next year.
English vineyards focus: Planting in the wrong place?
The research team behind this study said that they examined every ’50 x 50 metre’ plot of land in England and Wales for its suitability as a vineyard area.
Dr Alistair Nesbitt said, ‘Interestingly, some of the best areas that we found are where relatively few vineyards currently exist such as in Essex and Suffolk – parts of the country that are drier, warmer and more stable year-to-year than some more established vineyard locations.
‘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.’
Editing by Chris Mercer.