Looking through an opening in a bush towards an English vineyard with blue skies
/ The history of…
/ The history of…

The history of english wine – and its sparkling future

The history of English wine has been a bumpy one, and it starts much further back than many people would believe.

There is evidence that the Romans grew grapes for wine in English soil some 2,000 years ago.

For many hundreds of years after that there have been numerous attempts to make English wine the preferred choice amongst drinkers, with varying degrees of success.

In fact, its fair to say that until relatively recently, English wine had a bad reputation both at home and elsewhere in the world.

But today, the white and sparkling wines produced in England are often rated among the best.

So how did we get here? In this episode of the Table Talk podcast, Stefan Gates is joined by wine writer, Liz Sagues, to find out exactly that.

It’s easy to dismiss early attempts at making English wine as being blighted by cold weather and too much rain, but there’s more to it than that.

Easy access to European wines, a lack of expertise, and a love of beer have also played their part.

But if it was so difficult to get wine-growing to take off in this country, why did so many people persevere?

Liz introduces us to some of the trailblazers.

She talks about the Honourable Charles Hamilton, who planted a vineyard at Painshill Park in Surrey, and accidentally made early English sparkling wine.

The Carr Taylor vineyard, near Hastings, which made the first commercial quantities of wine in 1986.

Sandy and Stewart Moss who made sparkling wine at Nyetimber in Sussex and won a blind tasting in Paris in 1992.

The owners of Ridgeview are cited as having played an important role in the story of English wine by sharing expertise with other growers.

As well as looking to the past, Liz looks at the present and the future.

The expertise is now there, thanks to agricultural colleges such as Plumpton, and excellent wines are being made by the Bolney Estate, and Camel Valley in Cornwall, to name a couple.

Listen to the full episode to find out what Liz believes makes an English wine special, how climate change could mean we’ll see more bottles of it in future, and why the rest of the UK could have a booming wine industry in the years to come.

Liz Sagues, Wine Writer and Author

Author of two books on English wine, wine columnist for the Ham&High Series of weekly newspapers circulating in north and north west London. Member (and committee member), Circle of Wine Writers.

Liz came to wine writing via general journalism, where before going freelance she was assistant editor of the Ham & High, a respected London weekly newspaper with many readers who are well-informed wine consumers.

She continues to write a monthly wine page for the Ham & High and its sister papers, and she has twice won one of the ‘Oscars’ of wine writing, the Louis Roederer Regional Wine Writer of the Year award (2005 and 2011).

Her first wine book, A Celebration of English Wine (Robert Hale, 2018), ended a 10-year gap in publication of books for consumers on English wine -– a decade in which so much had changed! It covers the development of wine in England through 2,000 years, with much emphasis on how and why the present product is so good, how to enjoy it and what the future might hold. She wanted to continue telling this fascinating story, hence a second book, Sussex by the Glass (Tanwood Press, 2021), the first regional book on English wine. It takes an innovative approach in weaving past and present through the stories of two pioneering family estates, Bolney and Ridgeview, now headed by the daughters of their founders.

Wine subjects apart, she has also had feature articles published in The Independent, Sunday Times and Country Life and in 2013 her first book Chichester Harbour: England’s Coastal Gem was published by Robert Hale.

Her wine columns can be seen at www.hamhigh.co.uk as well as in the printed editions of the Ham & High Series. She also hosts wine events and run tastings for consumers.

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