Whilst there is evidence that the Romans introduced viticulture to the UK, the real turning point for English wine was in the 1990s at Nyetimber Vineyard in Sussex, which is now a global brand along with the likes of Chapel Down, Gusbourne and Herbert Hall all located in Kent (to name just a few). It would not be an understatement to say that grape growing and wine production is a booming industry for the UK:
- It is the fastest-growing agricultural sector in the UK according to Government figures.
- Grapes now represent 36% of England’s soft fruit crop (Defra)
- English and Welsh wine producers have increased the total land under vine by 74% over the past five years (Decanter)
- The industry produced 12.2 million bottles in 2022 compared with 5.3 million bottles in 2017.
2023 is set to be a record breaking harvest for English wine, and according to the Wine Garden of England, “the levels of quality and production have broken all previous records. More producers will be able to think about export, and the rest of the world will start to see our growing wine region come into focus.” It is a sad fact that in the not too distant future Champagne will not be able to produce what we all know and love as traditional ‘Champagne’. This is simply because it will be too hot to do so and the grapes used to make Champagne will not tolerate the warmer climate.
With rapid expansion comes great opportunity. There has been land acquisition in both Kent and Sussex by two of the most well-known Champagne houses and undoubtedly there will be more who wish to set up in the UK given that the Champagne region’s future looks bleak. Farmers are diversifying to plant vines and either sell their grapes to winemakers, or develop their land to create their own wineries. The Industry has also attracted high net worth individuals who wish to start new ventures. There are many success stories such as Hush Heath in Goudhurst, which has now been producing high quality wine for a number of years and has significantly invested in its site to become a first-class winery destination for tourists. The subsequent effect on land values is astonishing, with Strutt & Parker reporting that ground suitable for vineyard planting often sells for £15,000-25,000/acre compared with £8,000-10,000/acre for other arable land. We are also likely to see a significant increase in lettings for established vineyards.
From a legal perspective, there are multiple considerations for people already working in, or considering entering into the wine industry. There may be wealth planning considerations, land sales, acquisitions and lettings, commercial contracts to agree, funding and investment into existing or new businesses, joint ventures and company acquisitions and planning considerations for winery development to name just a few.
At every stage, it is important to work with trusted advisers who not only have the necessary technical legal knowledge, but also an in-depth understanding of the wine industry. I have been fortunate to combine advising a wide range of clients on real estate matters with a particular interest in the food and drink sector, enhanced by my passion for viticulture and the wine industry generally. I have now achieved WSET Level 3 and am a Spanish Wine Scholar (Wine Scholar Guild). This has given me a unique insight into, and strong links to, a number of Kent and Sussex’s premier vineyards, including the wonderful smaller boutique vineyards who are not as well-known. As such, I am a huge cheerleader for the English wine industry and look forward to seeing it go from strength to strength.
If you are land owner looking to diversify or an aspiring wine producer, then please do get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org.