This year's hot weather should lead to a bumper grape crop, English vineyard owners have said.
Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall could be in for a good year
This could mean the finest wine the country has ever produced arriving on
supermarket shelves and dinner tables in the middle of next year.
Many in the wine industry said the 2002 grape harvest had been the finest for a decade, boosted by a good spring and a warm, dry late summer and early autumn.
But this year's dry, sunny run could make 2003 an English vintage to look back
on with pride, wine-growers say.
Will Davenport, owner of the Davenport Vineyards in Kent and east Sussex,
said: "The weather we have enjoyed this summer has been absolutely perfect
for our grapes.
"They are a Mediterranean crop and we have been enjoying Mediterranean
weather so we couldn't ask for any more.
"It doesn't mean we will get a bigger crop - that is decided by the number of
canes planted last year - but it is the quality of the grape, how quickly it
matures and its sugar content that will be helped."
Mr Davenport said the dry weather has helped to ensure the grapes
have not become swollen with rain.
This can dilute the sugar and acidity, and
make them susceptible to disease.
'Wait and see'
Tom Hayward, of Sharpham Vineyard in Devon, said: "Last
year was an excellent year, 2001 was good as well, but it's looking very, very
good again this year."
However, he warned: "We have to wait and see because the weather could change
Tom Jinks, of the Biddenden Vineyards in Kent, compared the 2003 summer's climate
to 1988, one of the hottest and longest summers in English history.
"I don't think we will be getting as much sunshine as that year, but growers
are excited at the run we've been having," he said.
"It's the warmest for a long time and both the black and white grapes are
benefiting enormously - this year will be as good if not better than last
POTTED HISTORY OF ENGLISH AND WELSH WINE
The Romans brought the vine and wine to Britain
Many vineyards in Middle Ages, but decline set in later
Renaissance after World War 2
Now nearly 400 vineyards in England and Wales
English or Welsh wine is labelled just that. 'British wine' is made from imported grape juice concentrate
But as Mr Jinks pointed out, the moment of truth comes when the wine is
"After the year we've had we're all looking forward to the best and most
important part - testing in January before the
bottling in June," he said.
There are about 400 vineyards in England and Wales, with about 1,000
hectares under vine.
Most are in the south-east of England, and Kent in particular, with some in the south-west. A handful are in Wales.
Seyval blanc, Reichensteiner and Muller-Thurgau are the most widely planted
grapes, followed by Bacchus, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.