As a country, our drink offerings go further than tepid ale (although completely fair enough if that’s your thing) and deliciously crisp cider. We’ve risen up in the wine world rankings and now produce some truly excellent wine, with Folc being ranked the highest scoring still English Rosé in the country (IWC Awards 2021)!
While Britain may not be traditionally associated with vineyards, most people have no idea they’ve actually been planted in the UK for winemaking since Roman times, and in fact, produce wines similar to those in certain other Northern European regions, for example, France, as the English climate, soil and chalk are so similar. And since the legendary ‘Nyetimber effect’ (Oz Clarke - English Wine), English wine has landed firmly on the wine world’s radar and is only recently becoming more renowned around the world.
Fast forward a few thousand years, there are now several English wine regions whose wine is so delicious, you’ll find yourself questioning how it took you so long to discover the incredible wine made in your very own backyard.
English Wine: A Short History
While Oz Clarke describes England as a producer of “the newest of new world wines”, English wine production actually dates back over 2000 years to Roman times. However, the magic has only really happened in the last 30 years. This is for many reasons but one fundamental point is that to make flavoursome wine, you need sunlight and warmth, so that the natural sugars, flavours and aromas in the grapes can really build up and shine. As we all know too well our weather is a bit hit and miss, but as the world has warmed up every year, so has England and this makes our vines, and winemakers, very happy.
Now this isn’t to say we didn’t give it a go before this (we are English after all!), wealthier people dabbled in planting a few vines here and there on their own vast estates but English winemaking certainly held no importance globally. Post WWII, more vines were planted on higher ground in Oxted, and Britain proved that vines could at least survive and yield grapes. The 50s and 60s saw some success in Hampshire and Sussex, and the 1980s produced some reasonable bottles, due to the British enthusiasm for sweet German wines - adding sugary grape juice helped - but nothing truly groundbreaking happened until the 1990s and the ‘Nyetimber effect’.
So can you plant vines anywhere in England?
This article will just focus on a few of the southern and eastern regions which are responsible for putting English wine on the map (more to come soon!), but it would be fair to say that the South-East of England is currently the gemstone of English vineyards due to their quality soils and south facing slopes for the best sunlight. Even our French friends such as the likes of Tattinger have chosen this spot for their first English vineyard.
Kent & The ‘Nyetimber Effect’
Just 40 minutes from London lies Kent (aka Folc’s hometown) with its white cliffs and salty air. South facing vineyards mean the optimal amount of sun on the vines (wet and rot of course remain a concern in the English winemaking world, so the more sun the merrier). Growers such as Nyetimber have vineyards in Kent, as well as Sussex, and were part of an English sparkling vs champagne tasting, where they won the blanc de blancs round – 13 out of 14 tasters thought it was champagne and it won the trophy for the best sparkling wine in the world in 1998. This is known by the legendary Oz as the Nyetimber effect, and proved that England could hold its own against the renowned French region.
With the same chalky soils as Champagne (the region), the same traditional methods used to make champagne, and roughly the same temperature as champagne due to increased global warming, English wine produced in Sussex and Kent suddenly became a serious player.
Other wine producers very quickly say the benefits of the Kent region for winemaking and brands such as Chapel Down, Gusbourne, Hush Heath and Simpsons all have vineyards in the region. This is one of the reasons why we've chosen to produce Folc in Kent and why we’re striving to put English rosé on the map. As our neighbours have expertly shown, Kent makes seriously good English wine!
Sussex (East & West)
This sunny corner of England enjoys coastal breezes and the same type of soil (limestone chalk) that is used to grow Champagne, hence the incredible quality of its sparkling wine. Although it can be sunny, the climate is cooler overall so grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier all flourish throughout England but especially here and in Hampshire, resulting in impressive sparkling and still wines which are more than holding their own on the world stage. Too much rain is often a concern for English winemakers, but for Sussex they actually sometimes have to worry about too little; it’s situated in a warmer and dryer part of England, but this is what results (in part) in the excellent grapes. With Sussex accounting for around a quarter of English wine production with more than 30 different wine producers and 70 hectares of vineyards, this region is certainly pulling its weight.
East Sussex was the original planting ground for the older vineyards, such as Breaky Bottom and Ridgeview, along with the newer Rathfinny, whereas West Sussex is the home of the heavyweight of the sparkling world that is Nyetimeber and also Bolney Estate.
More chalky soils infused with ancient marine fossils means yet more wonderful British wine. This is a corner of the wine world to watch, as more young growers invest their skill in the area as temperatures rise in the UK. Its close proximity to London makes it a favourite for weekend wanderings and British wine-related adventures like tastings. Check out Denbies if you get a chance!
Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry would have been proud of East Anglia - it is responsible for over half the amount of wine grown in Britain that boasts his name. Sandy soils in Suffolk right over to clays in Essex mean that there is plenty of scope for growing a wide variety of grapes here - Solaris, Madeleine Angevine, Reichensteiner, Huxelrebe, Schonburger, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Seyval to name just a few. You’ll find East Anglian wines in most good British supermarkets as so many different grape varieties flourish here.
Although East Anglia is a lesser known wine growing region, the wines produced here really pack a punch so if you want to taste some award winning wines don’t forget about the likes of New Hall based in Essex and Winbirri in Norfolk.
(Sometimes) sunny Hampshire is becoming known for its wonderful sparkling wine, with 2018 being a particularly good year for the vines and producing bubbles. Chalky soils and Jurassic limestone are what’s needed for top notch sparkling, and Hampshire has it in droves. Like in Sussex, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier all grow very well here, leading to very special sparkling blends made in the traditional method Champagne style and aged for a number of years in bottle (the longer the ageing the more biscuity buttery croissant(y) goodness the wine will have!). Some reigning sparkling wine champions such as Langham, Coates & Seely, Hattingley Valley, Exton Park and Hambledon are all found in Hampshire so it is well worth a vineyard tour if you get the chance and fancy some bubbles!
English wine has its own unique and wonderful flavour and doesn't always need to come from other more ‘exotic’ regions, with Folc being a testament to that. We’re passionate about English wine and are bringing Folc and English rosé to the forefront of customers’ palates as part of a bigger movement and to create an experience and memorable moment for them.
We’ll be back with some more regions but for the time being, we hope you can help in supporting the English wine movement by popping open a bottle of English wine knowing you’re supporting a local producer and enjoying some delicious wine grown on your very own doorstep!