Author: Liz Andersen
When I started to look into the background for this article regarding the types of wines we grow in this country, the first thing that struck me, despite English wine making only really becoming mainstream in the last 30 years or so, was that we’ve actually been making wine here in the UK for centuries!
I’d like to personally thank whichever Roman Centurion it was who introduced vine growing to England … a true philanthropist! But an optimistic one, as he tried growing grapes as far North as Lincolnshire.
Talking of the North, that brings me rather neatly round to the subject of latitude …. Here comes your geography lesson for the day. It is commonly agreed that vines grow successfully within the degrees of 30 and 50 either North or South of the Equator. Beyond either of those limits, it is either too cold or too hot.
So successful winemaking in English vineyards should come as no surprise when you think that London is on 51.506 N. Our most prolific vineyards are in Berkshire, Kent, Sussex in Southern England. Compare that to Alsace on 48.330 N and Mosel on 49.037 N. All much of a muchness really, and we know how great their wines are.
English vineyards climate is quite similar to Mosel or Alsace
So we share a very similar climate. The other thing we have in common is very similar soils, mainly chalky limestone, which lends itself particularly well to the grape varieties grown to produce sparkling wines.
So, let’s look at the most commonly grown grape varieties.
White grape varieties:
- Seyval Blanc
- Madeleine Angevine
- Pinot Gris
Black Grape varieties:
- Pinot Noir
- Meunier (ex - Pinot Meunier)
Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec: can they grow in England?
The main restriction to the varieties we can grow is down to the low growing season temperature. Other grape varieties, especially of black grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, just won’t ripen here. We just don’t have sufficient warmth for colour to develop in the skins, nor for tannins to soften. The grapes would also just be too bitter and contain insufficient sugar to convert to alcohol during fermentation.
Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to drink a glass of dry wine where the tannins are so grippy and harsh, making your tongue feel as though it had been grated and your top lip stick to your teeth, will know where I am coming from.
So choosing the right varieties allows wineries in the UK to produce different types of wines, sparkling, still whites and still reds. We do have a long growing season to counteract some of the lack of warmth and this allows grapes to ripen slowly all the way through to harvest in October.
With the turmoil going on around us at the moment and uncertainty around supplies of essential products (that most definitely includes wine), it is reassuring to know that wineries such as Stanlake Park are not only continuing to produce outstanding wines, but offering to deliver them too!
I shall be opening a bottle of their Madeleine tonight and saying “Centurion, I salute you”.