Bursting with life: A story about the fast growing UK wine industry

Bursting with life

The English and Welsh wine industry is growing fast. The number of vines planted in the past three years has more than trebled. There are now more than 600 vineyards, and many of them are open to a knowledge-thirsty public. With that growth has emerged an associated industry, wine tourism, one that is still in its infancy but one that is projected to grow exponentially.

Vineyard accommodation

More than 60 vineyards across England and Wales, the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles now provide overnight accommodation. One such enterprise is West Sussex-based Tinwood Estate.

Last year was the 11th season at, and the latest in a series of bumper harvests.

For the past three years, visitors have had the opportunity to stay overnight in one of three lodges at Tinwood vineyard.

Complete with a sauna, these luxurious overnight dwellings are quite intimate, and very quiet, says co-owner Art Tukker. “In the evenings you will see a few deer strolling by the vines, and by day guests can take a mountain bike through the trails in the vineyard – it’s pretty good fun,” he says.

He took the idea for overnight accommodation from his experience visiting vineyards in South Africa and New Zealand.

People come and stay on the vineyards, do some wine tasting during the day and then just enjoy the surroundings. And they don’t then have to worry about getting a taxi to get home after they have tried a few glasses of wine.

 

The overnight lodges attract a range of people that include some who may live just 10 minutes away, as well as a significant number of overnight guests from London. His aim, he says, is to attract more business from international visitors. “Once the locals have stayed two or three times, their interest in doing so again may wane, so we would hope that the international visitors might boost numbers,” he says.

But he concedes international visitors are harder to reach. “How does someone in the US know that they can stay overnight at an English sparkling wine vineyard? Obviously, telling people around you is much easier than conveying that message to people who are in a different country.

Although the lodgings are open all year round like the vineyard, they are considerably more popular through the summer months. “It’s probably more fun to stay the vineyard in the summer than the winter,” he suggests.

 

Geographical spread

 

gusbourne vineyard
Gusbourne Vineyard

 

 

Engaging geographically with vineyards to cash in on the opportunities offered by wine tourism in the UK has been hit and miss – not least because of the rapid growth in number and variety.

Information on precisely where vineyards can be found, whether and when they are open to the public, and whether and to what extend they provide overnight accommodation has been curated by www.winecellardoor.co.uk, which has a directory with interactive filters enabling the wine enthusiast to find such features as location and tasting notes.

 

Elisabeth Else who runs the site has been blogging for a number of years. She brings e-commerce experience to the young English and Welsh wine market having implemented online shops for organisations including World Duty Free and the Tate Gallery.

She tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast:

 

The latest trend I’ve noticed is vineyards doing special events, which tend to sell out, so it’s worth independent accommodation providers signing up to the mailing lists of their local vineyards and or popping in and making friends.

 

Just a few years ago, wineries were to be found solely in the south of the country in counties such as Hampshire, Sussex and Kent. A milder climate has taken hold and the warmer summer season has grown kinder to harvesting grapes, and vineyards have been emerging across such counties as Herefordshire, Cheshire and even Yorkshire. And today, more than 60 of these vineyards of all sizes across the UK now offer overnight accommodation accounting for just under 10% of all UK commercial vineyards.

 

Industry collaboration

Some are now proving original and inventive in their offerings too. Wines of Great Britain marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast:

julia

An industry working group is preparing a set of best practice reference points to help commercial participants, and wine tourism is recognised be a growth area in the coming years. It is an area of the industry we can promote with both our domestic and significantly our export market programmes.

An area of development in just the last 18 months has been the emergence of vineyard clusters – that is, groups of vineyards in the same region or county that are collaborating primarily to promote the tourism aspect of their business. Some are working with local tourist groups, hospitality industry and other bodies to create more awareness in this side of the industry, she says.

There are groups now in Kent (Wine Garden of England), Sussex (Sussex Wineries), Surrey (Vineyards of the Surrey Hills), Hampshire (Vineyards of Hampshire), Wales (Wine Trail Wales) and there are emerging trails/groups in Dorset and one shaping up in Yorkshire/Lincolnshire amongst others.”

There is a huge potential for local economies and associated businesses to work together,” she stresses.

 

International visitors
Research from UK tourism trade body VisitBritain shows that almost 91% of international travellers who associated sparkling wine with the UK were interested in trying British varieties. In addition, one in three respondents across 15 overseas markets surveyed picked ‘a wine tour in the vineyards of England’ as an activity that they wanted to do in Britain if they were to visit.

Intriguingly, the top markets keen to try this activity were China (46%), Brazil (45%), Canada (43%) and South Korea (42%). It may simply be that these areas are harder to reach than, say, the US tourism market but they certainly provide food for thought. Prior to the emergence of this analysis the key nationalities to target were and, in many cases, still are widely considered to be China and US.

 

Master of Wine

B&Bs or inns in a wine region of the UK that offer fine dining could benefit from employing a wine expert in their restaurant such as a sommelier or a master of wine.

Master of Wine Anne McHale is responsible for selecting all the English sparkling wine in London’s award-winning bar venue The Coral Room. In May 2019 the bar won the award for Best English wine List for the Coral Rooms from the Wine List from the Wine List Confidential Awards.

masters of wine anne mchale

She says wine tourism is rapidly growing in importance, with a number of counties in the UK including Kent and Warwickshire already using their geographic pertinence as a draw for UK wine tourism, marketing and collaborating to create a generic body to enable enthusiasts to trail around the county for tourism purposes.

There definitely remains great scope for massive growth in wine tourism in the UK,” she says. “Marketing in general is moving towards this more experiential way of looking at things. Customers don’t simply want t a product anymore – they want the whole experience around it. If they can bring back a bottle of wine and say they had actually stood in the very vineyard where it was produced and had lunch overlooking the vines and saw where the wine is made, it adds layers and layers to their experience, and will make them much more loyal to the brand. Wine tourism therefore offers huge benefits both the vineyard and to the customer.

The movement for growth in vineyards with onsite B&Bs will definitely grow, she predicts. “From my own experience, regions such as New Zealand Australia and South Africa have been doing this for quite a long time and it is a huge business that will grow in the UK as people invest more and realise the benefits.

Independent hotels and guest houses can definitely play a part in spreading the word, she says.

It comes down to collaboration on a local level. This promotes the local wine industry which in turn provides a benefit for everyone in the region in terms of hospitality and accommodation,” she says.

Anne has been approached by various sources in the emerging wine tourism sector, including ones targeting US tourists to the UK off cruise ships.

She says:

Although at this stage it is still embryonic, the idea is a Master of Wine would spend the day with such visitors going from winery to winery in a particular region or across several regions.

On the bus I would give them a background to the industry ahead of visits to wineries where we would have lunch and tours. The role is more of a consultant rather than being affiliated with one specific vineyard or winery – retaining my independence but still providing a source of valuable information,” she adds.

 

Grabbing the initiative

There is no doubt that the growing spread of vineyards and the popularity of English and Welsh wines provides a great opportunity for independent hospitality providers across the spectrum to coordinate their offering with wine trade bodies such as WSTA and WineGB. If your property is within reach of any of the multitude of vineyards from the English Channel to Yorkshire, from Pembrokeshire to Norfolk, many of which are open all year round, it would be sensible to evaluate how your own business may play a part in wine tourism. And a good start for B&Bs with wineries or vineyards in their vicinity would be to get in touch with agencies like VisitBritain to start the ball rolling.
 

Exports doubled

Around 8% of English wine produced is exported, up from 4% in 2017, to 40 countries, up from 27 three years ago.

 

Industry stats
Total number of UK commercial vineyards 658 (2019)
Total number of UK wineries: 164 (2018)
Hectarage under vine: 3,579 (up 83% since 2015)
Number of vines planted 2017-2019: 2017 – 1m
2018 – 1.6m
2019 – 3m
Top grape varieties planted
Rank Variety Hectarage
1st Pinot noir 1063 ha
2nd Chardonnay 1034 ha
3rd Pinot meunier 394 ha
4th Bacchus 247 ha
5th Seyval blanc 150 ha
6th Pinot gris 70 ha
7th Reichensteiner 66 ha
8th Madeleine Angevine 61 ha
9th Others 494 ha
Wine producing regions in Great Britain
1% Wales
4% East Anglia
6% Rest of UK
13% South West
76% South East
Wine styles produced in Great Britain
Still 31%
Sparkling 69%
Sales of English and Welsh wine
UK trade sales 53%
UK cellar door sales 32%
Exports 8%
Online sales 6%
SOURCE: Wines of Great Britain