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Climate Change could make UK leading red wine producer

Published:  17 August, 2022

The average growing season temperature (typically between April-October) in UK wine regions is currently estimated to be 14°C – an increase of 1°C since 1981. 

This warming has underpinned the rapid expansion of the UK viticulture sector and its current focus on sparkling wine production. However, according to research conducted by the International Viticulture and Enology Society (IVES), climate change may create opportunities for more varieties and wine styles in the UK over the next two decades, particularly Pinot Noir.

The UK’s ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 2002, and heatwaves like those experienced in 2018 contributed to record UK average winegrape yields of 48 hectolitres per hectare.

Before 2004 the dominant grape varieties grown in the UK were cooler-climate tolerant Reichensteiner, Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau. However, the story in 2020 painted a different story with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, respectively representing 33%, 32% and 13% of the total planted area. 

Historically speaking, still red wine can only achieve adequate ripeness levels in a limited number of locations or in exceptionally warm years such as 2018. As a result, Pinot Noir is predominantly grown in the UK for sparkling wine production.

As climate change continues, however, the potential for quality still red wine production may increase in the UK.

According to the IVES report: “Pinot Noir clones planted for still red wine may increasingly become consistent performers across a wide UK growing area. 

“Conversely, other more established regions of the world may move out of the bioclimatic range and/or adaptive capacity for reliable production of Pinot Noir for still or sparkling wine

“In such circumstances, variety and clonal migration could be further fuelled by market demand.”

Between 1999–2018 Champagne region GST was 15.5 °C (the same as in the UK during the 2018 heatwave). IVES projects that these temperatures are likely to occur in large areas of England and places in the far south and south-east Wales during 2021-2040.

“Whilst Pinot Noir for sparkling wine has been successfully grown in the UK; the projected growing season temperature increases indicate the new and increasing opportunity for still Pinot Noir production in some areas. 

“Our results suggest in certain years, a few areas of the UK may see seasons similar to those that contributed to the best vintages of Champagne in the last 20 years,” the report stated.

In 2020, Wine GB found that sparkling wine accounted for 72% of overall wine production in the UK. Moving forward, the industry will need to be more agile if it wants to take advantage of the warmer climate and avoid being pigeon-holed as a producer of good sparkling wines but not much else. 

In order to achieve this, an upheaval of the market strategy for UK wine would be required before it can establish itself as a destination for quality still wine.