Exciting phase for English wine heralded in Brighton

The International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS2016), held in Brighton on 26-28 May and drawing around 600 delegates from 30 countries, "marks the beginning of a new and exciting phase" for English wine production, according to English Wine Producers marketing director Julia Trustram Eve.

Brighton: the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium brought together delegates from 30 countries - image: ICCWS
Brighton: the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium brought together delegates from 30 countries - image: ICCWS

"It's been hugely useful to learn from the example of others longer established than us on technical and marketing issues," she said, adding that the international symposium, of which this was the ninth, has already succeeded in putting emerging regions such as Tasmania on the world map.

Germany's Geisenheim University president Professor Dr Hans Schultz pointed out: "There has been a steady increase in Europe's temperatures since the 1980s, and the further north you go, the stronger this trend is. Fifty degrees north (level with Luxembourg) used to be the northern limit for wine production but now industries are being developed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland and even Denmark and Sweden.

"Varieties and vineyard management will be critical in these new areas. England has found a niche with sparkling wine which helps build profile and so exports. But you have yields of 25 hectolitres per hectare, which is very low, so you have to keep up the quality."

University of East Anglia research student and co-author of a recent research paper Alistair Nesbitt said that English growers should look for sites with low variability in temperature and rainfall for greater yield stability, both now and under climate change scenarios. "By mapping a range of parameters together, we have identified the top one per cent, and even the best field, for viticulture," he said.

Professor Cornelis van Leeuwen of French higher education and research establishment Bordeaux Sciences Agro warned: "Climate change is bringing higher temperatures and increased water deficits. These changes do not always have a negative impact on wine quality, but both plant material and viticultural techniques will have to change over time."

Head of the Julius Kuhn Institute for Grapevine Breeding Professor Dr Reinhard Topfer explained that while the quest to breed varieties resistant to downy and powdery mildew goes back over 100 years, "since 2005 we are using marker-assisted breeding to follow resistance loci from wild crosses, of which we have identified five for downy mildew and four for powdery mildew" - loci which are "stacked" for more durable resistance.

He explained: "We don't start from the beginning each time - the resistance is in the breeding pool. But these are resistances not immunities so some spraying is still required." Among the institute's recent varieties are the Muller Thurgau-like Calardis blanc, for which protection is pending, and of which Topfer said: "We are interested in some experimental planting in the UK. It's attractive from the viticulture and quality point of view - we need to inform growers and the public, and would like to raise funds to do this. We can't just breed then wait."

He added: "Riesling was first mentioned in the 15th century. In this way wine grapes are completely different from other crops, even dessert grapes. Wheat varieties are replaced in the market every five to eight years."

Vine nursery owner Volker Freytag said: "For me, crossing for low plant protection use is a natural evolution." The disease-resistant Cabernet blanc variety which he selected is among those being trialled at Plumpton College, but is already yielding a EUR10 commercial wine in Germany. "Twenty years ago no one was interested in planting new varieties - now they come to us," he added. "If you can say it saves on spraying, it's a good story."

Head of Plumpton College wine department and chairman of the event's programme committee Chris Foss said: "This has brought the world of wine to England, and they see it's now a serious wine producer, which is great for us - we need to get out there and talk to other wine-producing countries. But if we decide we are world-class, we need to re-join the OIV (International Organisation of Vine and Wine)."

At the launch of the three-day symposium, wine writer Jancis Robinson took farming minister George Eustice to task for letting the UK's membership of OIV lapse, and also for Defra's withdrawal of funding for skills training delivered through Plumpton College, which ended in March last year.

"We are having to fund (industry training) ourselves," Foss added. "We are 'competitors' for further funding but haven't heard, even though we're the only bidder. The industry needs a professional educational arm - it's not something you can just learn off mum and dad."

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