Viticulture - Wine showcase

The UK wine-producing industry will be out in force at July's Fruit Focus to discuss advances and share skills, Gavin McEwan reports.

John Deere's 5G series tractors at work - image: Phil Clarke-Hill
John Deere's 5G series tractors at work - image: Phil Clarke-Hill

With several large new plantings and a slew of recent international awards already under its belt, the UK wine industry has well and truly arrived on the world stage.

To help maintain this momentum, part of July's Fruit Focus event will for the fifth year be given over to Vines to Wines. Supported by English Wine Producers (EWP) and the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA), the speciality event will bring together all those involved in the growing, production, distribution and sales of UK wines.

EWP marketing manager Julia Trustram Eve explains the event's appeal: "While our producer members also go to other events in France and Germany, this is the only one of its kind in Britain, and a fantastic networking opportunity."

The organisation estimates that as recent plantings, focused on sparkling wines, come on-stream, market-ready volumes will expand fivefold in value over the next three years, knocking on the door of sparkling wine sales from the southern hemisphere.

The UKVA, meanwhile, has around 450 members accounting for 95 per cent of growers. "The association is actually about the same size as when I joined 20 years ago," says deputy chairman Roger Marchbank. "But the industry is as big and as viable now as it's ever been. An industry is only as good as its worst product, and there isn't much bad wine around now."

The best ones, he adds, bear comparison with any wines anywhere, borne out by the numerous awards they have won. "That has helped get media interest - that and the fact that producers are more savvy now about marketing."

Such is the level of skills in the industry that the UK has become a net exporter of know-how, Marchbank adds. Plumpton College, the only British college with a dedicated viticulture faculty, "is providing training as good as any", according to Marchbank. "But it is producing more people than the UK can absorb. They are heading for France or New Zealand."

The opportunities for overseas work are part of the appeal for many younger entrants to the industry, he says. The industry has also upskilled thanks to European money channelled through WineSkills, based at the college. "We can get the best people in the world flown in."

WineSkills will for the first time lay on a series of training workshops at Vines to Wines, based at East Malling's small demonstration vinery. This was upgraded last year to incorporate new trellising and ground anchoring systems, whose suppliers will be there on the day to answer enquiries.

The workshop topics will include instruction on pesticide application, summer pruning and canopy management, while the Fruit Forum marquee will feature a talk on setting up your vineyard.

There will also be live demonstrations of new machinery and equipment - a key part of the event, according to Marchbank. "New vineyards such as Rathfinny are highly mechanised. Planting is done by teams with specialist equipment from Germany," he says.

"We are also starting to see mechanical pruning, although most British vineyards are not big enough to invest in machine harvesting. We are also seeing mobile bottling plants, which go from vineyard to vineyard, coming in from France."

Vines to Wines

Date: Wednesday 25 July

Location: East Malling Research, Kent ME19 6BJ

Admission: £10 in advance from website or on the day


Skills workshops:

10am: Summer pruning and canopy management with D'Arcy Gander and James Dodson, Vine Works.

11am: Vineyard pesticide application workshop with Brian Speed.

2.30pm: Summer pruning and canopy management with D'Arcy Gander and James Dodson, Vine Works.

3.30pm: Vineyard pesticide application workshop with Brian Speed.

- The number of participants at the workshops is limited so advance booking is essential.

UK wine industry facts

Number of vineyards: More than 400

Area under vines: 1,500ha - area doubled since 2004

Average annual production: 2.65 million bottles 2006-10

Market split: 50 per cent sparkling, 38 per cent still white, 12 per cent red/rose

UK wine market share: 0.14 per cent

Source: English Wine Producers

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