Ideal Wine Company - English wine industry

Should the English wine industry do more to become sustainable?

Some English wine producers believe the industry should be doing more to become sustainable. Daniel Ham is a winemaker who left Dorset’s Langham Wine Estate to found Offbeat Wines, which concentrates on biodynamic and organic wines.

Offbeat Wines is an independent sustainable winery housed on a Wiltshire biodynamic farm. Daniel spoke to the drinks business magazine about how the industry needs a better approach to sustainability.

English wine industry could take its lead from Champagne region

By following the lead of industry bodies in other regions, such as Comite Champagne in France, English wine could be more sustainable. Some people within the English wine industry say that sustainability is more of a challenge in this country, as there are different pressures in this country compared with others.

In the Champagne region of France, there is a general consensus that everyone should work towards sustainability. But according to Mr Ham, in the UK individual producers tend to work alone. However, he praised the launch of the Sustainable Wines of GB initiative, which got off the ground in 2019. Led by the WineGB Environmental Sustainability Group, Sustainable Wines aims to support winemakers in the UK in their efforts to go green.

Part of the reason why the UK lags behind other wine-producing regions in this area is its relative newness. But Mr Ham believes that attitudes must change right from the start. While there is plenty of investment in the UK’s burgeoning wine industry, he says that growing grapes is where winemakers should start looking at sustainability. He says in his interview with the drinks business that there should be “some degree of responsibility [taken by UK winemakers].”

Biodynamic and organic wines are the next big thing

At the end of 2019, Champagne released the first 100% biodynamic version of its iconic Cristal brand. This is the lead that the UK should follow, with major brands creating biodynamic wine on a large scale.

Mr Ham also believes that winemakers in the UK should retain more unfashionable hybrid grapes, rather than digging them up to replace with Champagne. He points out that there are many older vineyards in the country that are already planted with hybrid grapes, that are disease resistant.

Therefore, he thinks that marketing existing grapes is the way forward. He says: “There are older vines with disease resistant fruit that’s often half the price of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay. The fruit is often a lot riper, but year after year it remains hanging because no-one will buy it.”

According to WineGB, there are about 30 wine producers in the UK already making organic wine, including Bridewell, Laverstoke Park, Forty Hall, Sunnyhill vineyard, Ancre Hill, Oxney, Davenport and Albury.

Many of these winemakers are focusing on using fewer chemicals. Others are experimenting with wild fermentation, no filtration or fining and minimal use of sulphides. As the English wine industry expands, we’ll see more winemakers turning to sustainable practices in future.