Climate change and its impact on the UK wine industry. Wine production in the United Kingdom can be traced back almost 2,000 years. When the wine-loving Romans crossed the channel in AD 43, they brought with them the knowledge and desire to grow wine. So they planted a number of vineyards across the country. Since the Romans, there has been an ‘on-off’ love affair with wine growing on the island – for a variety of reasons. Much depended on who ruled at the time, the economic value and, of course, the climate.
The British weather, known for being wet and miserable with short summers of fleeting sunshine, was just not deemed appropriate for wine growing. Now with the climate change, the UK wine industry is about to rise.
However, all that has changed with the onset of global warming and climate change. While the world joins forces to limit the negative effects of climate change, one of the few beneficiaries has been the UK wine industry. Indeed, it has seen a rapid growth over the past two decades – with the prospect of more to come.
How does the climate change benefit the UK wine industry?
Wine grapes require a warm, temperate climate from spring through to harvesting, a low risk of frost damage and no extreme heat. The UK, particularly south east England and the south coast counties, have enjoyed these conditions. This has aided the expansion of vineyards to approximately 800 across the country according to industry body Wines of Great Britain (WineGB). These numbers include Wales, the Midlands and northern England. Even Scotland can boast a handful of vineyards.
As a result, the wine industry is definitely blossoming. And it is certainly looking to take advantage of the climate conditions, which are favourable to wine product.
According to research by WineGB on the industry at the end of 2020, the country has 3,800 hectares of land under vine. And this number has more than doubled in just eight years. 2020 also witnessed 1.4m vines planted, with more than 8.7m vines planted since 2017.
A thirst for more
The improved climate conditions are combined with a burgeoning reputation and demand for English wine. Moreover, the quality is of the English wine is rivalling with more established wine-producing nations. And all this is fuelling a thirst for more.
What are the numbers of the impact of climate change on the UK wine industry?
WineGB has developed a strategic plan up to 2025. This plan has five pillars to further establish the country as a sustainable wine growing region. This is complemented by the UK Government’s plans to develop the industry. The industry has already reached its 2020 targets for 3,000 hectares of vines and production of 10m bottles of wine.
A case study by the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee, noted: “Longer-term goals of 20 million bottles/year by 2030 and 40 million bottles/year by 2040. Climate change is projected to increase the achievability of these outcomes, improving the agro-climatic conditions and productivity of English wine. By 2040, climate change could mean that England has become an ‘intermediate climate’ wine area, with higher wine suitability than today.”
Tourism and employment
This growth in wine production has also brought other benefits in terms of jobs and tourism. As with vineyards in other countries, the UK’s producers throw open their doors for tastings and events. Meanwhile, some provide a range of accommodation facilities, helping to further boost wine tourism.
How does the climate change impact the wine tourism in the UK?
GBWines 2020 data revealed that visits to vineyards and wineries had increased by 57 per cent. Domestic tourism was driving the growth with UK residents accounting for 92 per cent of visits. However, overseas tourists dropped from 27 per cent in 2019 to eight per cent in 2020. Of course, this is a result of the travel restrictions and disruption caused by Covid-19.
This rise in tourism and interest in UK wines has also seen the number of people employed in the industry rise to 5,000. Indeed, more establishments are opening. And none of this would have been achievable without climate change.
Combatting future climate change
However, while the UK looks to make the most of this, further climate change can reverse this trend. Indeed, experts are already looking at how the global wine industry can make the necessary changes. All this to ensure grape production continues. All this without causing potential irreparable damage.
For example, rises in temperature of two or four degrees, can take the industry on an entirely different pathway. While summers will get longer, the risks of drought are very real as is the potential of late spring frosts. And all this impacts on the grapes and the quality of wine produced.
What does the expert say about climate change in the UK and its impact on the wine industry?
Viticulture climatologist Dr Alistair Nesbitt, CEO of winery and vineyard consultants Vinescapes.
In an effort to assist existing and future vineyard owners in the UK, he is working on a project researching climate resilience in the UK wine sector. In a recent article with Vineyard magazine, Dr Nesbitt explained the CREWS-UK project in more detail.
He said: “The project is a collaboration between climatologists, wine sector specialists and social scientists from the Grantham Research Institute and the University of East Anglia. It will provide information on how climate change will affect the wine production sector to inform better decision-making, investment and adaptation. ”
“It will do this by firstly mapping and analysing climate trends and impacts on UK grape growing and assessing ways to support climate change adaptation in UK wine production. The project outcomes will be published in about six months’ time, which will provide user-friendly information on anticipated climate changes in order to help the industry plan for a resilient future.”
The next decade heralds interesting times for wine in the UK, with the prospect of more vineyards. To paraphrase the popular proverb, it really is a case of make wine while the sun shines.