Scientists have identified 35,000 hectares of prime land for growing wine grapes in the UK. The total area under vine in England and Wales today is 2500ha.
The study used new geographical analysis techniques to assess every 50 × 50m plot of land in England and Wales. It then graded their suitability for viticulture, using a variety of factors such as climate and soil type.
Much of the best land can be found in Kent, Sussex and East Anglia. East Anglia is less well-established as a wine region than the South East, which is the most widely-planted with vines in the country, but the study suggests it has similar potential.
Dr Alistair Nesbitt, lead author of the study, explains: “some of the best areas that we found are where relatively few vineyards currently exist, such as in Essex and Suffolk – parts of the country that are drier, warmer and more stable year-to-year than some more established vineyard locations.
“The techniques we used enabled us to identify areas ripe for future vineyard investments, but they also showed that many existing vineyards are not that well located, so there is definitely room for improvement and we hope our model can help boost future productivity.
“Entering into viticulture and wine production in England and Wales isn’t for the faint hearted – the investment required is high and risks are significant.
“But as climate change drives warmer growing season temperatures in England and Wales, this new viticulture suitability model allows, for the first time, an objective and informed rapid assessment of land at local, regional and national scales.”
Professor Steve Dorling, from the UEA School of Environmental Sciences, said: “English and Welsh vineyards are booming, and their wine is winning international acclaim.
“This summer’s heatwave has led to a record grape harvest and a vintage year for English and Welsh wine, prompting great interest in investment and land opportunities.
“But despite a trend of warming grape-growing seasons, this season has been quite unusual in terms of weather. English and Welsh grape yields are generally quite low and variable by international standards, so we wanted to identify the best places to plant vineyards and improve the sector’s resilience to the UK’s often fickle weather.”
The research was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and by funding from Chateau de Sours through its beneficiary Plumpton College. The paper, succinctly titled “A Suitability Model for Viticulture in England and Wales: Opportunities for Investment, Sector Growth and Increased Climate Resilience”, was published in the Journal of Land Use Science on Friday.