English Vineyard

Setting up an English Vineyard

Choosing the Vineyard Location

In Britain choice of vineyard location is limited to the southern parts of England and Wales, for general warmth and length of sunshine hours. Even then, English and Welsh wines are produced at the northernmost limit for production. Grape yields are likely to be relatively low.

The grower will try to gain maximum cropping advantage by careful choice of location within the broader region. His estate will be chosen for the specifics of mesoclimate, such as altitude, rainfall, temperature and prevailing winds. A south facing site, to maximise sunlight exposure, is particularly critical. Guy, for instance, chose Aller Hill’s Somerset site for its low altitude, south facing, low rainfall, well-drained site. His search took many years.

The site must also be gently sloping, for angling to the sun and good drainage, but must avoid too steep a slope, which would make working it difficult.

Ideally, the site will be sheltered from prevailing winds. If that is not the case, use of man-made windbreaks should be considered, though better still is tree planting to create appropriate windbreaks.

The ideal soil type is sandy loam, for good drainage. Heavy clay is particularly unsuitable due to potential issues around waterlogging.

Choosing Grape Varietals

Realistic grape varietal choice in England and Wales is limited, and mainly Germanic, though some French varieties are used. Again, the issue is being on the northern margins of production.

Bureaucracy, by way of the EU Recommended Varieties, Authorised Varieties and Provisionally Authorised Varieties must also be navigated. There are 6 Recommended Varieties, 12 Authorised Varieties and 18 Provisionally Authorised Varieties.

Bacchus, a Reisling and Silvaner hybrid, is regarded by many as the optimum choice, certainly for whites. It is also used in sparkling wines. Other varieties grown for white wine include Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Muller-Thurgau, Ortega, Reichensteiner, Schonburger, Seyval Blanc, Siegerrebe and Chardonnay. Chardonnay is, of course, also used for sparkling wines, as are Reichensteiner, Madeleine Angevine and Seyval Blanc. The intensely aromatic Siegerrebe is mostly used in blended wines to add tones.

Grape varieties grown for red wine include Dornfelder, Pinot Noir, Rondo and Pinot Meunier. Pinot Meunier is also used for sparkling wines.

Different varietals will flourish or fail as according to the pH value on a particular site, meaning the soil acidity or alkalinity. It is possible to overcome difficulties to some extent by using grafted vines that use the rootstock of a more suitable variety.