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New look Wine GB leadership team looks to the future

Published:  05 September, 2023

Wine GB opened its annual tasting at Battersea Arts Centre this morning, with a briefing which sketched what the future might look like for the the UK’s homegrown wine industry.

The lingering impacts of Brexit, the rising price of grapes and ongoing impacts of global warming were all on the agenda in London, where the national body showed off its new leadership team.

An all female group, the team is headed up Sam Linter, chair of Wine GB and the new wine director at Plumpton College, alongside new CEO Nicola Bates, who officially joins from role as director of strategy and external affairs at the Portman Group in October. Completing the trio is sustainability ambassador, Anne Jones, who joined last month.

As context for the tasting, Linter drew on original data, which shows how much the industry has grown.

England and Wales now consists of 4,300 ha, putting it just behind Chablis’ 4,500 ha.

“Hectarage has grown 74% over the past five years and is unrecognisable from what it was back in 2000, when the number was 857 ha. So in those 23 years, our hectare has grown 500%. That’s huge growth,” she said.

Exports have grown, too. They represented 7% of production last year, growing from 4% the year before.

Kent can claim the most vineyard surface area, with 1,033 ha (26% of the total), followed by West Sussex with 570 ha (15%) and East Sussex with 493 ha (13%). Chardonnay represents the biggest number of plantings, spread across 1,228 ha (31% of the total), followed by Pinot Noir with 1,141 ha (29%) and Pinot Meunier with 343 ha (9%). Bacchus comes in fourth with 298 ha (8%).

Left to right: new Wine GB CEO Nicola Bates; Sam Linter, chair;  Anne Jones, sustainability ambassador.

    With growth set to continue, Wine GB is now on a mission to turn UK wine into one of the most sustainable regions in the world. To fully embed this ambition, sustainability was officially added to Wine GB’s core pillars last year, and according to the team, has a direct impact on the other three pillars: leadership, services and growth.

    “We’re agile enough that we don’t have a long legacy to unpick [in terms of the way we do things], but we’re also not too small,” Jones said.

    “Sustainability is a bit like wine – there’s no perfect answer to ‘how do we fix the planet’. The government’s net zero by 2050 commitment is set in stone, but they don’t necessarily know how to get there. We’re a young enough industry, that we can help with that – and we’re big enough that the government is now willing to listen.”

    On the topics of price and RRP, the average price of grapes for English wine has grown in recent years, from between £2-2,500 per ton to £3,000 – putting it at around half the price of Champagne (approximately £6,000).

    In order to attain the necessary price points, restaurants must champion English wines by the glass, in particular, Wine GB vice-chair, Nick Wenman, said: “Prosecco has made fizz an everyday drinking wine. But we need restaurants and indie retailers to get behind the product.”

    These include operators like upmarket pub The White Hart in Wadshurst. Co-owned by Sam Maynard, previously of Hotel du Vin, the gastropub is positioning itself as an English wine hub in the Sussex countryside, and has one of the biggest English wine lists in the UK (165 and counting).

    This is just one example of how the perception of – and willing to engage with – English wine has grown. It is still a young and evolving industry, however. Challenges on the horizon include the government’s current proposals to allow the blending and transforming of wine on UK soil.

    “As long as the stipulation is there, requiring the country of origin of the grapes on the bottle, then there isn’t a problem. If that is removed, that’s when it’s become a massive problem,” Linter said.