Skip to main content

English Wine Week

Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 23 June 2021

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Tom Pursglove.)

It is a great pleasure to talk about the success story that is English wine in English Wine Week, but I am happy to expand the designation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. My constituency, Arundel and South Downs, has one of the largest collections of vineyards in the United Kingdom, with a combined 309 hectares. Vineyards making up that hectarage are among some of the best in the country, including Nutbourne, Redfold Vineyards, Coldharbour, Tullens, Stopham, the Wiston Estate and Woodmancote vineyard. In that respect, I draw the House’s attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests or, more accurately, the lack of any entry. With the summer months now upon us, I am always happy to volunteer myself as a professional consumer of their products.

I am also the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for wine of Great Britain, of which I see a number of members here this evening. I am pleased to announce that it has 53 Members from across the House. Through my role as chair, I have had the pleasure of working closely with Simon Robinson of Hattingley Valley, who sadly informed us that he will be stepping down as chair of WineGB in August. I pay tribute to him for his work, but I also welcome his successor, Sam Linter of Bolney Wine Estate. I am sure that we will have a great time promoting English wine together.

May I first thank my hon. Friend for his leadership of the English wines group and for his expansive way of making it for all this country?

One of the issues raised by English wine producers, and in particular by producers of sparkling wine, where we are doing really well, is that we ought to be able to bring in half-litre bottles. [Interruption.] Forgive me; I am being asked to go to the pub. We can sell still wine in half-litres and some English wine growers suggest that, now that we are free of EU rules, it would be a good idea to do the same for sparkling wine.

I thank my hon. Friend for that eminent suggestion. As we know, the only thing better than half a litre of English sparkling wine is a full litre, but why would we seek to deprive choice to the consumer? Perhaps the Minister and her colleagues will pick that up when she responds.

Wine, as we know, has a long history on this island, having been introduced by the Romans. By the time of the Normans, who indeed chose Sussex to land, more than 40 vineyards were listed in the Domesday Book—one of the earliest censuses on record—proving that their produce has always attracted the attention of the taxman. There was healthy growth in the wine industry in the late medieval and early-modern period, with 139 vineyards recorded at the time of Henry VIII’s coronation. Indeed, to this day, just over the road, there is a legacy of Henry’s prodigious taste for wine in the form of his personal cellar, now buried—or so they claim—under the Ministry of Defence. English wine has done exceptionally well in recent years and is now repeatedly recognised as a contender among some of the world leaders in the industry, with England winning more gold medals in the Sommelier Wine Awards than France.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing this issue forward. Does he not agree that British goods of a high quality, such as English wine, should be available for sale in each corner of this wonderful United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that Greenfields wine, which I think he omitted to refer to, should be promoted in my constituency of Strangford just as Echlinville gin, made in Kircubbin in my constituency, should be promoted in Arundel?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of the importance of the single internal market. I would be delighted to promote his Echlinville gin to my constituents in Arundel and South Downs.

I was talking about awards and the quality of our English products. In recent months, Nyetimber—another vineyard in my constituency—won four awards at the 2020 Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships. Closer to home, we should not forget the excellent work done by Trevor Clough and Jason Humphries at Digby Fine English—also in my constituency—who have been awarded the contract for the House of Commons gift shop’s first ever official sparkling wine, meaning that every visitor to this House can leave with a genuinely sparkling souvenir. It is happening not only in my constituency but across England, and it has been a pleasure to hear from hon. Friends about a wealth of other first-class wine estates.

Right across England, and indeed even in North Yorkshire—which might sound very northerly for a wine—there are the wonderful, award-winning Ryedale vineyards that produce the fantastically named Yorkshire’s Lass and Yorkshire’s Lad white wine. It really is top-drawer and worthy of that award. Does my hon. Friend think we might push the Treasury to introduce some incentives for our smaller wine growers—cellar door relief, for example, or perhaps small vineyards relief—which would encourage more tourism to our lovely constituencies as well as more wine sales?

My hon. Friend makes a fantastic point. I look forward to consuming Yorkshire’s Lass or Yorkshire’s Lad. We should certainly support our small producers in what is, as I will go on to say, a growing industry in the United Kingdom.

A number of other colleagues have joined me to talk about the wine estates in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) has mentioned the Chafor vineyard in his constituency, and I see on the Front Bench the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who plays host to Bolney, and Kingscote in East Grinstead.

English sparkling wine has had a very busy year despite the pandemic. With the current trend to stay local and to buy local due to the pandemic, the industry has adapted well to current restrictions. WineGB data suggests that the industry saw an increase of 30% in 2020 on the previous year, with 7 million bottles sold, and we have a great deal more to look forward to. Dermot Sugrue, winemaker at Whiston Estate, wrote recently that the 2020 harvest is

“in a word: Superb. Best…since 2003 & 2011.”

Peter Gladwin, the proprietor of the Nutbourne Vineyards, told me that he believes in some ways covid restrictions have helped the UK wine industry. Buying local, staycations and the multitude of good publicity have all boosted direct-to-consumer sales.

Wine tourism has also seen an increase in the lockdown, with more visitors than ever heading to our UK vineyards and wineries for their holidays, enhancing—and this is a very serious point—the rural economy and much-needed employment. A recent report commissioned by the South Downs National Park Authority, which itself does an excellent job at promoting English wine, estimated that we have seen 33,000 visitors coming to our 51 vineyards and 11 wineries.

If the authors of a recent report on climate change—another very serious topic—are to be believed, the South Downs wine harvest will only grow. Today, just 0.4% of agricultural land is currently used for viticulture, whereas the report estimates that up to 34% of land could be suitable in the future. This potential is already apparent in the wider country, as 2021 has seen 1.4 million vines planted, and over 5,000 acres have been planted over the past five years.

With restrictions easing, we cannot stop here. We must continue to try to help this great industry grow, and one way to help is through taxation. Wine Drinkers UK explained to me that currently excise duty on a bottle of still wine is £2.23 plus VAT, while excise duty on a bottle of sparkling wine is £2.86 plus VAT. There is literally a bubble tax. Maybe it is the forerunner of a broader tax on carbon emissions, but I have to say it does seem like a really odd place to start.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point there. It is absurd of course because if it is a tax to prevent people from drinking more alcohol, the alcohol content of sparkling wine is rather lower than that of still wine, so it is actually even more healthy for people to drink sparkling wine than still wine.

I thank my hon. Friend for his endorsement of the health benefits of sparkling wine, and I am sure he himself is a sparkling example of that as well. In the long term, I am confident that such a change in taxation would be a good deal for the Chancellor.

Another current issue that the wine industry in Britain is facing is the lack of seasonal workers able to come over and help with the harvest. There is currently only one UK college I am aware of that promotes the very highest level of viticulture course, and that is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), which is Plumpton College. Its principal, Jeremy Kerswell, is very engaged in expanding this space and stepping into that opportunity. I believe that, together, we can find a happy balance between gaining seasonal workers, but also encouraging more British people to take up the wonderful career opportunities offered in viticulture.

On the subject of Government hospitality and patronage of home-grown wine, I have tabled a number of written questions in this House, from which I learned that in March of last year English wines made up only 10% of the Government wine cellar. However, I am delighted to report that Government are busy rectifying this oversight. In 2018-19, 49% of wines purchased for Government hospitality were English or Welsh, and that has improved this year to 73%—a commendable direction of travel and one we should really celebrate in English Wine Week.

Since I became chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for wine of Great Britain, the members and I have been pushing the Government to promote English wine as much as possible. It is something I will continue to champion, and I was grateful for the commitment given in this Chamber last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), as a Foreign Office Minister, that he will encourage all British high commissions and embassies to stock their cellars with home-grown produce. This would help, support and encourage the growth of the English wine industry on a global scale. Boosting exports is a major cause for optimism. Today we drink far more Australian wine than the Australians drink English wine, so there is an opportunity to redress that imbalance thanks to the new outline trade deal agreed by the International Trade Secretary. Such opportunities will be firmly on the agenda, or the menu, at the SussExport event to be hosted by Wilton Park this July for all export businesses in Sussex.

English Wine Week is also an outstanding opportunity to celebrate the community institutions that serve our local English wine—the great British pub. Pubs provide a warm welcome and a safe place to enjoy company, perhaps a glass of English sparkling wine, and often delicious food. Many are cherished and characterful buildings used for hospitality over the centuries.

To help our hard-pressed hostelries, I have launched a South Downs pub guide to encourage my constituents and visitors to the South Downs back to the booths, benches, beer gardens and bar stools of these local favourites. From the Foresters Arms in Kirdford, to the Thatched Inn in Hassocks, to the Holly Tree in Walberton to the White Horse in Graffham, all points of the compass in Arundel and South Downs are well served by an array of local pubs. I am thankful to Squires garden centre and Harwoods Land Rover for making this guide a possibility. It is not yet quite, as they say, available in all good bookshops, but copies will be available in time for unlocking on 19 July. In the meantime, it is at

I believe that it is important to celebrate and support this growing British industry in any way that we can, from promoting it on the international stage to ordering a bottle or two occasionally for ourselves. It is successful, sustainable and with plenty of room to grow.

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this debate given that we have a little more time due to the previous business finishing early. I really congratulate my hon. Friend, and neighbour, the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) on securing it. I am very covetous of his constituency because it includes the best vineyards in the country in the county that has the best vineyards in the country. It is with great pleasure that I endorse everything that he has said about English wine.

I speak with some long-term experience. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a vacation job, I used to work at the English Wine Centre in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) in the village of Alfriston, where I grew up. In those days, English wine was an altogether different beast. It had been reinvented by Guy Salisbury-Jones down at Hambledon in Hampshire, the home of cricket, and was largely an occupation taken up by retired colonels and the like as a sideline and hobby.

The quality of English wine in those days was somewhat questionable, so we had to think up imaginative ways of trying to promote it. One of those we came up with was having an English wine festival; it was rather more down to quantity than quality, which appealed to those who came. Then, in 1984, we founded the great English wine run, which mimicked the Beaujolais race bringing the new Beaujolais across to the UK. Instead, we took English wine across to a bunch of unsuspecting Parisians, ending up at the George V hotel in Paris. About 100 teams took part. Some were dressed up as famous English generals who had conquered the French in battle; of course, there were many that fitted that bill. We had double- decker London buses, surfboards, helicopters and vintage Rolls-Royces. We appeared, each of us, with our two bottles of English wine that we delivered to the finishing point at the George V hotel to the unsuspecting French who did not really want to drink it.

But today English wine is an altogether different beast. Forty years on from when we had those English wine runs, which we did for four or five years, we can now, with huge pride, hold up a bottle of English wine and it will hold its own with the best the French champagne industry can throw it. As my hon. Friend said, we now have countless vineyards that are winning in blind tastings internationally across the globe against the French, who thought they were the masters of producing sparkling wine. English sparkling wine is better. We have benefited from climate change, we benefit from the same latitude as the champagne district and we benefit from a similar terroir, particularly on the south downs, where the 51 vineyards in the South Downs national park have that chalky terrain that makes the best grapes to turn into English sparkling wine. So it has been a great success story, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that the odd drop has passed your lips occasionally in the past.

We need to celebrate the industry, and the Government need to get behind the industry a little more. We are now producing 7.1 million bottles on 10,000 acres across the country, mostly in England but some in Wales and apparently on a vineyard in Scotland—with a certain whisky tinge about it, I should think. We have 800 vineyards —and growing—employing many thousands of people and, really importantly, encouraging wine tourism as well. In Sussex, we have something called Sussex Modern, which was invented by the proprietor of Rathfinny, which is probably going to become the largest English vineyard and is a great success story. Sussex Modern combines vineyards with cultural and artistic sites for people coming to have a holiday in Sussex, just as they might go down to the south of France, to Bordeaux or wherever. They can take in some vineyards and some culture, history and heritage as well, and they can do it all in the United Kingdom, regardless of pandemics and everything else.

This is a really important, quality industry, and we want help from the Government. It is more expensive to set up a vineyard in this country, owing to the cost of land, when you are starting from scratch, so some more generous capital reliefs as part of agricultural aid might be something the Government would like to consider rather more generously. It is absurd, now that we are no longer constrained by taxation rules from the EU, that we are paying such a high tariff of tax on English wine. The equivalent tax in France is simply pennies—or euro cents—whereas here it is a much bigger chunk of the cost of the wine. It is also absurd, as I mentioned earlier, that we are paying a higher rate of tax on sparkling wine when it has a lower alcohol content—usually 11% compared with still wine at around 13 or 14%.

I know that, when the Minister replies, she will celebrate this industry—I have seen her taste much of the stuff in her years in this House—but will she have a word with her ministerial colleagues in the Treasury as well? This is a huge success story. It is part of Britain is GREAT, it will help to sell the UK around the world, and it would be nice to get that recognition from the Government with some financial advantage. In the post-common agricultural policy world in which we now live, the world is the English wine industry’s oyster and much of the south downs still can be developed under vineyards in the years to come. Thank you very much for this opportunity, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I look forward to hearing great things from the Minister. We can all then retire to the bar and have a sparkling wine from England.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) for organising this refreshing debate. It has been a really enjoyable end to today’s proceedings, but it has also raised some important matters, which I will endeavour to go through.

English Wine Week gives us a really good opportunity to come together to celebrate all that is good about English wine, and it is true that the growth in the sector has been phenomenal, with growth of 150% in just 10 years. Other sectors can only dream of such growth.

We have more than 3,500 hectares under vines at the moment, located on 770 vineyards spread across the country. It is great to have representatives of some of them in the Chamber this evening, and not just of Digby and Nyetimber, with whose products many of us are now familiar, but also my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who talked about Yorkshire’s Lad and Yorkshire’s Lass, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who represents so many great growers, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), who represents Bolney and Kingscote, and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), who was here earlier.

It was great to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who is also a very experienced wine drinker. It was good to hear his experiences of the great English wine run. I think it is fair to say that, in his lifetime and mine, the reputation of English wine has rightly changed enormously, and he made that point extremely powerfully.

The growth is impressive, but this is very much just the beginning. WineGB predicts that, by 2040, we will be producing 40 million bottles a year and as much as 70,000 hectares could be under vine. Large champagne houses, including Pommery and Taittinger, are working with vineyards and wine producers here, for the climatic reasons that have been rehearsed by my colleagues.

The industry anticipates that, by 2040, the wine sector will account for up to 30,000 new jobs. A significant part of this new economy is tourism, with 150 British vineyards now open to the public. There was a very useful article about that in the Telegraph yesterday, suggesting where people might visit on their summer holidays.

Our excellence in education is also significant. The quality of wine education at Plumpton, which was mentioned, is rightly recognised around the world. I was pleased to talk earlier to the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex. She told me about a very exciting scheme: the DWP is working with Plumpton on a sector-based work academy in viticulture to produce and train up the workers we need for the future of this sector.

I met WineGB recently to discuss what more the Government can do to support the sector. We continue to work on the application for a new geographical indication for Sussex wine; of course, that is where the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs is. That application is being processed within our new domestic GI scheme, and it is progressing well.

My hon. Friend mentioned the excellent report from the South Downs national park. The writers of that report are prepared to countenance a truly massive expansion of viticulture in the region. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs officials are taking the report very seriously and will be meeting the report writers next month to discuss how we can take the practical issues forward together.

It is also important to discuss marketing. We are truly a wine-loving nation. The trade is very important to us. By volume, we trade more wine in this country than anywhere else in the world. A fifth of our food imports by value are wine. English consumers clearly love wine, but—I should bring us down to reality—99% of the wine we drink currently is not produced here. We need to come together to boost sales among local consumers, which very much fits with our mantra this year of “Buy British, buy local, buy sustainable”.

I will look at the regulations post Brexit to ensure that they work in the best possible way for this industry. The points about taxation will, I am sure, have been heard by Her Majesty’s Treasury, and it is right that we are looking at how future farming schemes can fit this sector in a way that the common agricultural policy just did not.

We also need to ensure that English and Welsh wine benefits from our work on exports. At the moment, 10% of what we produce is exported, and the food and drink element of the GREAT campaign has made real progress in China, the US and Japan. We will continue to showcase excellent English wine. My hon. Friend and his APPG are right to challenge us on Government hospitality, and I will continue to work with him on that.

I am pleased to say that, in December last year, the UK joined the Organisation of Vine and Wine, which should help us shape the rules around winemaking on an international platform. We are very grateful to both WineGB and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association for working so closely with us on both that and other issues.

I encourage Members across the House to raise a glass this evening to this flourishing sector. I look forward to the day when, as a treat, we no longer have a glass of champagne but we can together have a glass of Sussex.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.