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English wine producers ride wave of optimism

English wine producers are preparing to launch one of the best vintages ever at the forthcoming English Wine Week.

Producers of English wine say they can now ‘hold their heads up’ with the certainty that they are producing wines that are rated more and more highly.

The 2002 harvest was boosted by perfect early autumn weather which ripened the grapes off and produced very high sugar levels.

Kelly Winward at England’s biggest producer, Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey (pictured), told decanter.com sales of their wines had rocketed, due mainly to a comprehensive relaunch in 2000, but also because of renewed interest in natural, local products. Sales from the winery had increased by 40%, and external sales by a massive 70%.

‘There is a definite lifestyle change – people want to buy things from home,’ she said, adding they were about to plant 10,000 new red vines – mainly early-ripening varieties like Dornfelder and the Czech grape Rondo – because their existing red production could not cope with demand.

Denbies produces around 30,000 cases per year, of which 20% are red. Their biggest seller is Surrey Gold, a blend of Muller-Thurgau, Ortega and Bacchus. Cookery guru and national icon Delia Smith is a fan.

Elsewhere in England there is the same optimism. Thomas Shaw at Gloucestershire’s Three Choirs Vineyard said, ‘We can hold our heads up.’

‘There is a lot more professionalism within the industry – we have winemakers with far more knowledge of the subject.’

One of these is Australian flying winemaker John Worontschak, the man credited with modernising the English wine industry, whose legacy – he is still consulting in England – is a generation of growers who know which varieties work, and who know how to sell a wine.

He once said about English winemaking, ‘Everything works against you – the weather’s awful, vineyard yields are low, there’s no mechanisation and people don’t support local industry.’

That picture is unrecognisable now. Shaw said it is more and more unusual for visitors to announce they are new to English wine. ‘And if they are, they keep quiet about it.’

Winward said, ‘When people are rude about English wine, you usually find they haven’t tasted it for years. Now at blind tastings we win more and more. In fact, some tasters are almost upset when they find they have given an English wine a high mark. They don’t expect it.’

English Wine Week takes place from 24 May to 1 June 2003

Written by Adam Lechmere15 May 2003

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