Reduce duty on English wine to make it more competitive, says award-winning grower
- Credit: Archant
Toppesfield Vineyard hosts the launch of the Sourced Locally Fortnight initiative to promote produce from East Anglia.
Lowering the duty on English wine and encouraging fresh investment in wine-making facilities are two factors that will enable the burgeoning English wine sector to continue to grow, according to a prize-winning East Anglian wine grower.
Husband and wife team, Jane and Peter Moore, run Toppesfield Vineyard in North Essex and 18 months ago saw their Bacchus Reserve and Pinot Noir Rosé wines selected to go on sale in six East of England Co-op stores local to them. More recently, the supermarket chain has expanded the vineyard's presence, so its wines can be found on shelves across its estate of 80 stores in the region.
For this reason, East of England Co-op selected the 'boutique' vineyard near Halstead to host the launch of its annual Sourced Locally Fortnight initiative, which kicked off this weekend. The campaign, now in its 13th year, encourages customers to swap their named-brand groceries for local alternatives with the aim of promoting producers from the region.
Over a glass of wine, Mr Moore spoke about the support the co-op has given his business and how attitudes towards English wines are changing. "The East of England Co-op has taken the product and focussed on it in the stores and actually helped change the perception of what English wine is like," he said.
"Previously, people might not have thought much of English wines but as they try more, people are realising it's right up there. We have been impressed with them [the East of England Co-op] - they have shown they are prepared to sacrifice a part of their margin to support us."
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According to industry body WineGB, around three million vines are due to be planted in the UK this year, making the British Isles one of the fastest growing wine regions in the world. Mr Moore said there are almost 70 vineyards operating in East Anglia alone. But, he added, for the business side of the sector to really take off, English wine needs to be more competitive on price with wines from Europe while there is also a need for more infrastructure.
"There are some great products being made by some great wine makers, who are getting their grapes from some great growers," he said.
"But we do need some help from our Government- we pay far more duty on a bottle of wine compared with an imported wine.
"For example, a French wine maker will probably make more profit on a bottle of wine selling for £7 than an English wine maker would see from a £10 bottle. We don't know what will happen after Brexit - maybe it might bring an extra £1 on each bottle [from Europe]."
He continued: "Everybody is producing grapes but where we will struggle is with good wine making facilities. Relatively speaking, growing grapes is the easy part - it costs around £18,000 to plant an acre of vines. But it costs a lot more to invest in wine-making facilities and people aren't ready for that yet."
Jane Moore said with East Anglia's clay/chalk mix soil, and climate change bringing warmer temperatures, the region's "terroir" in the region is ideal for growing certain grape varieties, including the Bacchus grape. Back in 2016, the vineyard won a Gold award in the Sommelier Wine Awards (SWA) for its Bacchus Reserve - the judges remarking on its "elderflower notes" and "light nuances of gooseberry and greengage".
Ms Moore also pointed to a "growing professionalism" in English wine-growing, as a reason why wines from these shores now compare favourably with products from traditional wine-growing countries such as France and Germany.
Both Jane and Peter lead busy lives, working in the City in London most days of the week before coming back to Essex at weekends to focus on their two and a half acre vineyard, which last year produced 11,000 bottles. Both work in the technology sector, Peter running a company developing facial recognition payments systems and Jane as a consultant.
And it is because of her background as a consultant that the couple sought the best advice for planting and caring for the vineyard from the start. They initially hired an expert to analyse their soil and to identify the right root stock, which was planted in 2012, and still pay him a retainer, so they can call for advice when needed. They also hire specialists - a company called Vinesmiths from nearby Sible Hedingham - to prune and cut back their vines every winter.
"We could have tried to do it all by looking at Google but we wanted to avoid any mistakes," said Mrs Moore.
"It [using consultants] may have cost x amount of thousands for the first couple of years, but then we knew we had got it right from day one."
But not every job on the vineyard requires experts. At harvest time, people living in the village are invited to come and help collect the grapes in return for some free produce.
Mrs Moore added: "We had 53 people turn out last year and we got through 80 bottles of wine. From an economic point of view I'm not sure it works but we had a great day."
Toppesfield Vineyard is one of over 100 producers who supply East of England Co-op stores across the region that will see their brands promoted throughout the duration of Sourced Locally Fortnight, which runs until June 15. The company says thousands of products are available, ranging from fruit and vegetables, jams and chutneys, to meats, fish, pies and fruit juices.
Joint chief executive at the East of England Co-op Roger Grosvenor, said: "This is a wonderful chance to celebrate that journey from field and farm to fork.
"We have some fabulous offers in place which will hopefully encourage shoppers to try something new. Sourced Locally Fortnight is a fantastic opportunity for local producers to meet customers and talk about their journey."