UK wineries must beware county split

The English wine industry should proceed with caution when it comes to segmenting regions by quality or creating a Protected Designation of Origin for each county, according to producers.

Chapel Down is part of the Kent group Wine Garden of England, and managing director Mark Harvey said its primary objective is to promote tourism.

Harvey said: “There is a sense of momentum and excitement and everyone is learning from each other. I do not believe in PDOs by county, however. Many leading wineries source from a number of counties so any such designation is meaningless and confusing for the consumer.

“We should celebrate England and Wales and then the individual producers. Slicing and dicing beyond that is confusing enough for us here in the UK.”

Rebecca Fisher, marketing & events manager at Hattingley Valley, part of Vineyards of Hampshire, agrees it shouldn’t be about regional PDOs because “it is too early for anything like that”.

She added: “Vineyards of Hampshire is very much a marketing body to showcase quality products from producers with a similar ethos and values.”

Mike Wagstaff, owner & winemaker at Greyfriar Vineyard, part of a group called Vineyards of the Surrey Hills, said: “At this stage it doesn’t make sense to have regional quality distinctions because we are not sure consumers are interested in subtle distinctions yet. We should be promoting English and Welsh wine collectively rather than focusing on Surrey, Sussex or any other sub-region.

For some producers defining wines by county could be particularly challenging. Nyetimber, for example, has vineyards across Sussex, Hampshire and Kent.

Its head winemaker, Cherie Spriggs, said: “The quality of these vineyards is linked by several factors, with no one county being superior to others. After all, vines don’t know what political geography boundaries exist.

“We remain of the position that it is the quality of the individual sites and individual producer that is key. Indeed, we take full advantage of the subtle differences between the characteristics of each county where we have planted our vines.”

Jonathan White, head of marketing for Gusbourne Wine, another member of the Wine Garden of England, said: “In terms of separate wine regions, my view is that we need to ensure whatever actions we take are clear and of benefit to the consumer, in the UK and internationally.

“Current alignments seem to be focusing on geographical detail whereas aspects such as production methods are potentially of more benefit to the customer who is new to English sparkling wines and trying to establish quality associations with other well-known sparkling wine styles from around the world, such as Champagne, crémant, Prosecco, Franciacorta or cava.”

In 2016 a group of Sussex wineries applied for a “Sussex wine” PDO via the EU. Until the process is ratified, Sussex wine has temporary protected status in the UK, so all wines using the name “Sussex wine” have to be produced in the county from grapes grown there. The first wine to be produced under the Sussex PDO scheme was approved in 2016 for Rathfinny Estate.

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