Official data concerning the vineyards of England and Wales is maintained by the Food Standards Agency in the UK Vineyard Register. The Wine Regulations of 2011 require that all vineyards larger than 0.1 ha be registered, though it is apparent that there was under-reporting of vineyards prior to 2013, when a large upwards revision took place.
According to the Vineyard Register for 2013/14, there are 448 commercial vineyards in England & Wales. Additionally, there are 89 hobby vineyards, meaning that their owners do not sell any production which might come from them. The majority of vineyards are located in southern England, but they extend north as far as Yorkshire and The Humber, and westwards into Wales.
A comprehensive database of individual vineyard plots is also maintained by Stephen Skelton at EnglishWine.com. He records a total of 599 vineyard plots. The reason for this discrepancy compared to the FSA’s Vineyard Register relates mainly to the under-reporting in the latter of non-commercial vineyards.
The reported vineyard area for the UK in 2013 was 1,884 ha, of which 1,571 ha was bearing. This is the largest it has been in the modern era of UK winemaking, and represents an increase of 150% in a decade. The increasing reputation of English, especially English sparkling, wines has driven this growth and has attracted the attention of new investors. The vineyard expansion which has occurred in the current cycle since 2004 differs from previous plantings in several key aspects. These include the scale of investment, rate of planting and increased use of technology to map soils and ensure precise planting patterns.
Vineyard Size Distribution
The data at EnglishWine.com has been used to produce a chart of the vineyard plot size distribution for England & Wales. This shows that almost half of all vineyard plots are <1 ha and that ca. three-quarters of all plots are <2.5 ha. Currently there are only two vineyards which are greater than 50 ha. Denbies Wine Estate hosts the largest vineyard in England and Wales (107.3 ha) and is the only one to exceed 100 ha. The relatively small size of many vineyard plots in England & Wales means that economies of scale are limited and production costs, of necessity, are generally high.
One of the most important and long-lasting changes to the English Vineyard has been in the choice of cultivars that have been planted in the past decade. In 2004 the UK’s most planted cultivar was the hybrid varietal Seyval Blanc (94 ha) followed by the German crossing Reichensteiner (89 ha). Plantings of Chardonnay at that time were a mere 36 ha. Fast forward to 2013 and Chardonnay has become the UK’s most planted cultivar with 327 ha, closely followed by Pinot Noir with 307 ha. The spectacular growth of these two cultivars follows the recognition of the very high quality potential of the English sparkling wine category. Almost all recent investment into the English wine industry has been directed towards sparkling wine and the cultivars of choice are two of the three most-used so successfully in Champagne.