The HISTORY of WINE MAKING IN BRITAIN
The period to the 1970s
The Romans probably brought the grape vine to Britain. They were certainly great wine drinkers and brought the Italian finished product here, as evidenced by the large number of discarded amphorae found in Roman remains, as well as a present-day vineyard near Shrewsbury that uses the name 'Wroxeter Roman', indicating a historic site. Certainly by the time that the Saxons took over, vineyards were established and were maintained by the new inhabitants . The Isle of Ely is one area that was identified by historians as being densely cultivated with vines. The Normans too discovered that the English wine industry had survived and duly recorded 28 examples in their taxation guide, otherwise known as the Domesday Book. These included Hatton Garden, Leeds Castle near Maidstone and Raleigh in Essex. The presence of vine growing in Sussex is indicated by such settlements as Vinehall Street and Vines Cross. Many old towns boast a Wine Street, indicating historic links with the wine industry, either production or sales.
Invasions had little effect on the number of vines grown but peace did. In 1152 Eleanor of Aquitaine became Queen and brought as her dowry the vineyards of Bordeaux. The English love of imports developed, as usual to the detriment of the native industry. By the time that Henry VIII came to the throne, most production had become concentrated around the abbeys and monasteries. One example was the Abbey of Abingdon where the mediaeval vineyard site is currently being used by Bothy Vineyard. Similarly, Pilton Manor in Somerset boasted a vineyard belonging to the abbey of Glastonbury. When these monastries were nationalised by Henry, most ofthe industry died with them . It is also speculated that slight climatic changes made vine growing less profitable.
In 1887, the Marquis of Bute tried to revive wine production in Wales. He planted 3 sites, including Castell Coch and at Swanbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. In 1916, they were ploughed up as part of the wartime food production effort, and the revival fizzled out again. It remained dead until after World War II, when Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones decided to plant a small site at Hambleden in Hampshire. Once he stopped trying to grow the red Black Hamburgh grape outdoors and concentrated on vines more climatically suitable, the plantings started producing wine. A few other hardy pioneers followed his lead and by 1964, English wine production had reached a massive 1500 bottles. By 1970, there were groups of vineyards, clustered mainly in the South east and in East Anglia, largly using grapes such as Muller Thurgau and Seyval Blanc. However, in the early part of the 1970's more plantings took place and a few vineyards appeared in the Midlands. The most northerly was at Renishaw Hall, home of Sir Reresby Sitwell.
The enthusiasm of the 1970's
The 1980s- the early growth of commercialism
One noticeable feature of the 1980s was the emergence of more commercial thinking whcih is still with us. A second wave of planting in the early 21st century has further increased the scale and professionalism of the industry. A few of the pioneers have survived, or have been taken over. Some, such as Ridgview in Sussex and Camel Valley in Cornwall are making use of the second generation of winemakers. Others, such as Wraxall, Astley, Frithsden and Tintern have completely new owners.
The industry in 1990
The spread northwards had yet to begin in earnest. Only George Bowden at Leventhorpe near Leeds had seen the potential of warm sites in Yorkshire. This situation was to remain until the turn of the century, when the line of growth took in the southern two thirds of Yorkshire. On the western side however, with one or two exceptions, outdoor growth in England has mainly been in Shropshire. There is only one vineyard in Lancashire and one in Cheshire. Anglesey in Wales currently has two. It is interesting to debate whether this expansion has been teh resut of climate change, opr of teh vast number of new varieties of vine emeging from teh German research stations. Sadly, to date, none of our British colleges or universities have shown much interest in producing new vines. In fact only Plumpton, RHC Cirencester and Sheffield Hallam have shown any interest in the industry at all. Hopefully, this will change as the industry expands.
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