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Caution advised on over-hyping the English wine ‘boom’

Published:  19 June, 2024

The UK wine industry has to be “Careful about spreading the message too much that English wine is booming” experts have said, as the industry enters into a potential period of oversupply and overinvestment.

The future of the English wine sector was under the microscope at Defined Wine’s event in London yesterday (18 June), where a panel was tasked with answering the question of whether the sector is facing a ‘boom or bust’ scenario.

Henry Sugden, CEO Defined Wine said he partly convened the session in response to the mounting potential issues associated with oversupply in England and Wales against a backdrop of accelerating plantings, while also looking at how the industry can sustain its growth.

“There seems to be two groups: one which can’t sell its wine, and another which can’t sell it fast enough, which is why Chapel Down doubled its production.

“I’m concerned,” he told the audience.

“We’re all big fans of English wine, obviously,” added Justin Howard-Sneyd MW. “No one wants to say it’s in trouble… but there are some warning signs. It’s actually quite hard selling wine. [Creating a wine-producing business] doesn’t happen overnight and I do see people going in and investing quite quickly.

“Since 2010, we’ve grown about 10% a year [in production at Hart of Gold], but sales are not growing at that speed. There was a little bump during Covid, where sales went up quite nicely. But they’ve come down again and that’s not a great sign. If we get badly out of balance, there becomes a very nasty dynamic in the market to do with over-production and people panicking and going bust.”

Chief among the takeaways was that the English and Welsh wine industry has reaped the benefits of its success in recent years. Sales have increased both at home and abroad with plantings accelerating alongside in order to keep up with demand. Concern over a potential crunch intensified last year however, when 2023 produced England and Wales’ largest ever harvest. Over 20 million bottles were produced in a single year, when annual sales sit closer to 8 or 10 million.

From here, plantings are also expected to continue to accelerate. Back in 1975, England and Wales had just 200ha under vine, rising to 850ha by 2000, 1,300ha in 2010 and 3,800ha in 2020.

Today, total hectarage sits at 4,200 and is forecasted to reach 7,600ha over the next decade – a projected rise of 84%.

Nicola Bates, chief executive at WineGB, offered an optimistic view of the industry’s oversupply issues, by pointing out that the sector itself is still proportionally very small.

“The UK has over 1.2 billion wine sales each year, and English wine is just 10 million of that.

“We have various asks of the government with our new manifesto. One is a discount for cellar door sales, like the UK has for beer. This would allow English and Welsh businesses to realise their investment in what is clearly a capital intensive model, and one which hasn’t benefitted from the new excise system.

“The number of tourism visits to wineries has doubled in the past two years, which is incredible. We have lots of opportunity ahead of us,” she concluded. 

For the full report, refer to the July issue of Harpers, out next week.