How the UK heatwave could pave the way for more BRITISH wines: Longer periods of warmth caused by climate change could create perfect conditions for new varieties – including Burgundy and Baden-style red wines

  • Climate change and hotter temperatures is increasing the potential for UK wine production, new study shows
  • Winegrowing has expanded nearly 400 per cent between 2004 and 2021, from 761 to 3,800 hectares, it says
  • MailOnline has spoken to scientists, wine experts and landowners about the future of the viticulture industry 

If you’re struggling to cope during the current UK heatwave, rest assured that there’s set to be at least one positive outcome – more homegrown wine. 

According to experts, warmer temperatures brought on by climate change are having a positive impact on the English wine industry, by boosting yields and suiting a greater number of grape varieties. 

In the UK, viticulture – the cultivation, protection, and harvest of grapes outdoors – has expanded nearly 400 per cent between 2004 and 2021, from 761 to 3,800 hectares, a new study shows. 

But climate change will likely keep boosting the potential for UK wine production, with conditions projected to resemble those in mainland Europe, experts say. 

Rising temperatures could create perfect conditions for red wines like those from Burgundy in France and Baden in Germany. 

Currently, successful British wineries are concentrated around southern England, especially counties like Sussex, Hampshire and Kent, and tend to focus on sparkling wines. 

Given time, areas could even rival the Champagne region of France for quality and reputation, meaning bottles of ‘Sussex’ or ‘Kent’ could soon be favourite tipples at weddings and graduation ceremonies.

Currently, Sussex, Surrey and Kent are the most ‘fashionable’ English counties for viticulture, but there’s also interest in Hampshire, Essex, Suffolk and other parts of East Anglia

Warmer temperatures brought on by climate change are having a positive impact on the English wine industry, researchers say. Currently, the most successful type of English wine is sparkling, and this is because of the chalk limestone soils of Sussex and Kent, which are similar to the soils of northern France. Pictured, a vineyard in Sussex, England

ENGLISH WINERIES  

– Chapel Down (Kent)

– Simpsons (Kent) 

– Hoffmann & Rathbone (East Sussex)

– Rathfinny Wine Estate (East Sussex) 

– Nyetimber (West Sussex)

– Wiston Estate (West Sussex) 

– Roebuck Estate (West Sussex)

– Blackdown Ridge (West Sussex)

– Crouch Ridge (Essex) 

– Setley Ridge (Hampshire) 

– Exton Park (Hampshire)  

Tom Harrow, an English wine merchant and writer, told MailOnline that weather conditions during the current heatwave are ‘great for the grapes’. 

Temperatures could push past 95°F (35°C) in south-east England this week, where some of the most successful vineries are currently based. 

‘This is setting us up for a potentially really good harvest,’ Harrow said. ‘English wine makers will be pretty positive about the way this year is shaping up. 

‘As the weather improves – which is a very English way of saying “as the climate disintegrates” – there is more and more wine being made further and further afield.

‘The wine scene is pushing further north as the summers get longer, we get more sunlight hours.’

In the last few years, the most successful type of English wine has proved to be sparkling, and this is partly because of the chalk limestone soils of Sussex and Kent, which are similar to the soils of northern France. 

But sparkling also mostly uses three grape varieties – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier – that grow better in warmer temperatures and don’t need to ripen for as long to produce a high-quality sparkling wine.

These three varieties now account for some 75 per cent of hectarage planted in Britain, according to trade body WineGB. 

Steve Dorling, a professor of meteorology at University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, is one of the authors of a new study in OENO One. 

‘We’ve seen a rapid transition to these varieties over the last 10-15 years, partly because the warming climate suits them and partly because, together, they can be blended to produce a highly marketable sparkling wine style,’ he told MailOnline. 

Professor Dorling also said longer periods of warmth in the upcoming years will suit the creation of still wines as well, because still wines require grapes that have ripened for longer periods of time.

‘Grapes that are used for popular still red wine production until recently we just haven’t had a warm enough climate to ripen those red grape varieties sufficiently to produce something that’s of high quality. 

It’s already known that changes in temperature affect grape ripeness, leading to differences between sweet and acidic flavours. 

In warm regions such as Southern France, California, and Australia, gradual transitions between seasons allow grapes to ripen fully, losing more natural acidity to produce sweeter, fruitier flavours.

On the other hand, sudden shifts in temperature from summer to autumn mean that colder regions like Northern France, South Africa, and the UK produce more tart and acidic wines.  

‘So the key point here is that the warming climate is suddenly making it possible for pretty much the first time to produce a still red wine that is high quality and marketable.’ 

At the moment, Pinot Noir is still predominantly grown in England and Wales for sparkling wine production, rather than still. 

This is because achieving adequate ripeness levels for high-quality still red wine has historically only been possible in a few locations, in exceptionally warm years such as 2018. 

Professor Dorling said 2018’s heatwave led to a record grape harvest and a vintage year for English and Welsh wine.

Warm, dry UK growing seasons like 2018, with lower than average disease problems in the vines, led to production of a record-breaking 15.6 million bottles. 

‘These growing conditions have already become and are projected to become more common,’ Professor Dorling said.

Rising temperatures will also suit the growth of varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon and more disease-resistant varieties, which are hardly grown in the UK at present. 

Before 2004, the dominant grape varieties grown in the UK were cooler-climate tolerant varieties including Reichensteiner, which is mainly grown in Germany.

‘We had a habit of making grapes in a very borderline climate; the only grapes that worked were these Germanic varieties,’ Harrow said.

‘Largely, wines weren’t very good because they were made from these unexciting, high acid, low taste, not really interesting varieties.’ 

Chapel Down has vineyards located in the Kent countryside, close to the market town of Tenterden in the borough of Ashford 

In the last two decades, the growth in UK vineyard numbers has occurred, alongside an increase in growing season temperatures. This graph from the study shows UK vineyard numbers, total hectarage and national wine yield between 2004 and 2021

Currently, some of the most renowned English wineries include Wiston Estate in Pulborough in West Sussex, specialising in sparkling white and rosé, and Chapel Down, which has a £180 bottle of Chardonnay created from a vineyard in Aylesford, Kent. 

Meanwhile, Roebuck Estate in West Sussex and Simpsons in Kent have both won ‘best in show’ for wines at the Decanter World Wine Awards, which describes itself as ‘the world’s largest and most influential wine competition’. 

THE NEW STUDY 

For Professor Dorling’s new study, his team considered how often UK conditions are projected to resemble those seen most recently in famous sparkling and still wine producing regions of France (Champagne and Burgundy) and Germany (Baden).

Since the 1980s, there has already been a warming of over 1.8°F (1°C) during the growing season in much of south-east and eastern England.

‘This warming has underpinned the rapid expansion of the UK viticulture sector and its current focus on growing grape varieties for sparkling wine,’ they say. 

Meanwhile, areas in England and Wales are projected to become warmer by 2040 by up to a further 2.5°F (1.4°C) during the growing season. 

Areas in East Anglia, Lincolnshire, south-central England, north-east Wales and coastal areas in south-west England and southern Wales are projected to have the same conditions as 2018 during 2021–2040 in up to 75 per cent of this time period.   

Domestically, sales of English and Welsh wines have risen by 69 per cent since 2019 – from 5.5 million bottles in 2019, to 7.1 million in 2020, growing to 9.3 million in 2021, according to WineGB. 

But wine sales are also increasing abroad – exports of UK wine doubled from 2018 to 2019 to around 550,000 bottles, WineGB and the Department for International Trade.

English and Welsh wines have proved particularly popular in Scandinavia – especially Norway, where exports jumped by 85 per cent year-on-year in 2021. 

Josh Donaghay-Spire, head Winemaker at Chapel Down, told MailOnline the warmer temperature is not the only reason why wine production has shot up.

‘We now better understand which varieties to grow, where and how to grow them, and how to get the best from those grapes in the winery,’ he said.

‘A combination of these factors has led to a rise in the quality and quantity of grapes grown, so to ascribe this change exclusively to warmer temperatures would not do justice to the hard work and skill of our colleagues in the vineyards and winery.’ 

Tom Harrow also said investment has given a boost to the industry, along with an increased focus on homegrown products generally.  

‘Given where we are with Brexit and the challenges of imports and exports, the simple expedient of having lovely wines on our doorstep is becoming increasingly attractive,’ he told MailOnline. 

Currently, Sussex, Surrey and Kent are the most ‘fashionable’ English counties for starting up a vineyard, but there’s also interest in Hampshire, Essex, Suffolk and other parts of East Anglia.

Land buyers are now prepared to pay up to £25,000 an acre for English ground that’s suitable for grape growing, according to Sussex land consultants CLM, Matthew Berryman at Sussex-based land consultants CLM, told MailOnline. 

‘Sussex, Surrey and Kent are often seen as fashionable locations because there are quite a few spots in these counties where the climate, soil and topography are ideal for growing grapes, plus their near-London location is a factor,’ he said.

‘The south of England is the engine of the English wine industry, but many other counties also have a strong winemaking pedigree.

‘Devon and Cornwall, for example, are home to some superb winemakers and, as the climate has changed, so ever-more commercial vineyards have been seen in the Midlands and the North of England, including North Yorkshire.’ 

Berryman said he sold 85 acres for a vineyard earlier this year, bought with money from China, although buyers are also coming from Europe, the US, the Middle East and even Russia.

‘Viticulture land is always likely to make a hefty premium over arable fields or grazing ground,’ he said.  

Wiston Estate, a winery in Pulborough, West Sussex, specialises in sparkling white and rosé (pictured). British regions could soon rival the Champagne region of France for quality and reputation, meaning bottles of ‘Sussex’ or ‘Kent’ could soon be favourite tipples at weddings and graduation ceremonies

Pictured is Chapel Down English Rose, the brand’s still rosé, which includes Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Rondo grapes

Maps from the new UAE study show the location of British vineyards and their size in hectares as of 2019. The biggest vineyards are mostly in Kent and Sussex

Of course, British weather will still be unpredictable, as the 2012 vintage demonstrated when much UK grape production was lost due to a cool and wet flowering period, so English wineries could lose entire harvests in bad years.

‘For some vineyards there literally was no production that year,’ said Professor Dorling. 

‘A huge proportion of the grape production literally had to be disposed of because it was so wet and cold around June time that unfortunately that led to a lot of disease and there was not ripening.’ 

For a British winery, the important thing will be having enough bottles from successful vintages to see them through a bad year, should this happen again – and climate change will likely make this possible. 

‘That’s the holy grail in the industry – being able to cope with the shock – whether that’s a climate shock or any other shock – in a particular year,’ said Professor Dorling.

Unfortunately, not all countries will benefit from climate change when it comes to wine production – in fact, quite the opposite. 

According to a 2020 study, just 3.6°F (2°C) of warming would cut the amount of suitable wine-growing regions globally by as much as 56 per cent.

Wineries overseas, in the Mediterranean region for example, will have to swap their current grape varieties up for more heat-tolerant varieties to keep up yields.

However, climate change will hit already hot regions like Italy and Spain the hardest, which may not have more heat-resistant varieties to trade up to. 

What are the potential impacts of extreme heat during amber warning?

The Met Office has issued an amber weather warning for extreme heat for the whole on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, covering most of England and some of Wales. 

The extreme heat warning system ranges from yellow to red and indicates how likely and how much of an impact the weather will have on public life. An amber warning states that temperatures are likely to have a high impact.

The warning for Sunday states: ‘Some exceptionally high temperatures are possible during Sunday and could lead to widespread impacts on people and infrastructure’.

Forecasters say the heatwave could impact the health of everyone – not only the vulnerable – while it could also impact electricity, gas and water supplies. Here is how it could impact different parts of daily life:

RAIL TRAVEL

The Met Office says that delays and cancellations to rail travel are possible with ‘potential for significant welfare issues for those who experience even moderate delays’. 

Network Rail has warned that services across the UK may be subject to speed restrictions to avoid tracks buckling, with South Western Railway and Heathrow Express among the operators warning of potential disruption. West Midlands Trains imposed a 20mph limits yesterday on the route between Stratford-upon-Avon, Leamington Spa and Kidderminster.

ROADS 

The Met Office says that delays on roads and road closures are possible during the heat alert period. 

The RAC has urged motorists to ‘think carefully before they drive, and do everything they can to avoid a breakdown’. It says motorists should check the coolant and oil levels under the bonnet when the engine is cold. 

It added: ‘If temperatures were to go as high as around 40c as some are predicting, then people should question their decision to drive in the first place.’

Hampshire County Council is preparing to deploy gritters in response to melting roads, saying that the machines will be spreading light dustings of sand which ‘acts like a sponge to soak up excess bitumen’.

Motorists who find tar stuck to their tyres are advised to wash it off with warm soapy water.

AIRPORTS

The Met Office has warned that air travel could also be disruption during the heat. This is because planes can become too heavy to take off in very hot weather due to reduced air density resulting in a lack of lift.

This happened during a heatwave in summer 2018 at London City Airport when some passengers had to be removed so the services become light enough to take off on the relatively short runway.

UTILITIES

The Met Office has warned that a failure of ‘heat-sensitive systems and equipment’ is possible. This could result in a loss of power and other essential services, such as water, electricity and gas. 

Hot weather can lead to high demand on the power network because people are turning on fans and air conditioning – and the heat can also lead to a drop in the efficiency of overhead power cables and transformers.

WORKPLACES

The Met Office says that ‘changes in working practices and daily routines will be required’ in the extreme heat. 

There is no specific law for a maximum working temperature, or when it is too hot to work.

But employers are expected to ensure that in offices or similar environments, the temperature in workplaces must be ‘reasonable’. Companies must follow follow health and safety laws which include keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, known as ‘thermal comfort’; and providing clean and fresh air.

The Trades Union Congress says that during heatwaves staff should be allowed to start work earlier, or stay later, leave jackets and ties in the wardrobe and have regular breaks. It is also calling for an absolute maximum indoor temperature of 30C (86F) – or 27C (81F) for strenuous jobs – to legally indicate when work should stop.

HEALTH 

The Met Office has said that adverse health effects could be ‘experienced by all, not just limited to those most vulnerable to extreme heat, leading to serious illness or danger to life’ during the amber warning. 

In addition, charity Asthma and Lung UK has warned up to three million asthma sufferers could be affected by high pollen levels, so should use their inhalers. 

SCHOOLS  

Plans to cope with the heat, created by the NHS and UKHSA, say children should not do ‘vigorous physical activity’ when temperatures rise above 30C (86F).

Some sports days have been cancelled this week, while official advice suggests moving school start, end and break times to avoid the hottest points in the day.

Official word from the Government on how schools should respond to the heat could be sent later this week – but it may be left to headteachers to decide.

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