Bumper crops expected for English vineyards

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The Independent Online

English grape growers began their annual harvest today as industry experts predicted that home-grown wine production will almost double in the next six years.

Despite a lacklustre British summer, the brief sunny spell during the Wimbledon fortnight fell during the vine flowering period, boosting domestic grape production.

This year's harvest among England's 416 wine-growers is expected to produce at least three million bottles of still and sparkling wine.

But the figure is still far behind seasoned wine producer France's formidable eight billion-bottle output.

Approximately 1,106 hectares of land are now dedicated to grape-growing - an increase of 45% since 2005, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The English Wine Producers association predicts that with further acreage being planted, English wine production will rise to 5.6 million bottles by 2015 - 3.7 million of which will be sparkling wine.

Stuart Smith, who runs Ryedale Vineyards in Westow near York, England's most northerly commercial producer, said he hoped to produce 3,000 bottles of white and rose wine this year compared to 450 last year and eventually increase this output to 20,000 in five years' time.

He said: "We're a relatively new vineyard, last year was our first crop. This year we've had particularly good weather - the heat in June brought the vines into flower quite early and we missed much of the wet weather in July. We had some rain, but it wasn't too bad."

"In general, the climate is warming, making it possible to grow grapes in the south of England and increasingly further north."

Mr Smith's team began harvesting the early black grapes this morning and the process will continue for the next month over his two sites, which contain 10,000 vines.

He added: "There is a tremendous loyalty to Yorkshire produce and we are tapping into that. With the quality, people come back for more. There is a much greater demand for local food and drink than there has been for a long time."

Frazer Thompson, CEO of Chapel Down Wines, based near Tenterden, Kent, the country's largest producer of English wines, said home-grown tipples were gradually gaining a name abroad.

He said: "English wine, especially our sparkling wine, has become an international force to be reckoned with. It has become something people drink through choice and not just patriotism.

"Our fizz regularly beats traditional champagnes at international competitions. English wine has become desirable not just here but in the US, Hong Kong and Japan.

"Our biggest problem up to now has been taking on new customers for fear of not being able to supply our regulars."

He added: "Wines from areas such as Kent replicate the taste of champagne because they use the 'holy trinity' of champagne grapes (pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) in a region with the perfect soil and climate. The Kent coast is only 80 miles north of Champagne and the geology of the chalk sub-soil and the topography is almost identical.

"We'll be picking our chardonnay and pinot n