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Diplomatic Service (United Kingdom Wines and Sparkling Wines)

Volume 623: debated on Tuesday 14 March 2017

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service in certain circumstances to purchase wines and sparkling wines produced in the United Kingdom and to serve such wines at overseas functions and events; and for connected purposes.

The triggering of article 50 is on its way, and this could be seen as the first post-Brexit Bill. As we leave the EU, we must grasp every opportunity to find new markets for our products around the world, and to be imaginative in supporting and promoting them. British viticulture is an industry whose future is golden, much like the colour of its best known sparkling vintages. It will play an increasingly important role in our rural economic powerhouse.

For those who think that our weather and terroir cannot support vines so that we can compete with France, Italy and Spain, think again. Chalky soils, south facing slopes and warmer temperatures provide ideal conditions for producing wine and sparkling wine, and we produced 5 million bottles of English wine last year. Even Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, warmed by the sun, produce wine. We bottle to everyone’s taste and budget. Admittedly, our wine production is a fraction of the global total, but that means that we have market share in our sights. In fact, speaking of France, we have been beating it at its own game. At a tasting held in Paris last year, English wine not only was mistaken for champagne, but beat respected champagne houses all round. That was not just a one-off. English wine won more than 175 UK and international awards in 2016 alone.

One of the great characteristics of modern Britain is that someone who was not exactly brought up with a champagne flute in their hand—unlike several hon. Members I could mention—has the opportunity to represent and promote such a fantastic, blossoming British industry. My constituency of Wealden in East Sussex has not one or two vineyards, but well over a dozen, several of which boast international awards. I have to report that my husband is doing his single-handed best to support this local industry, judging by the contents of our fridge.

It is a hugely exciting time to be a part of the English wine industry. There are now 133 wineries and more than 500 vineyards dotted across our beautiful English countryside. Some 150 of them are open to the public, including one of our local vineyards, Downsview, which is set in an area of outstanding beauty and has far-reaching views to the South Downs in the distance. Sussex Fox & Fox Vineyards, run by the visionaries Jonica and Gerard Fox, sits either side of the hilltop village of Mayfield, among the rolling hills and woodlands of the Sussex High Weald. One would be forgiven for thinking that a photo of harvest time in Mayfield was taken in Champagne.

Set amid bluebell-strewn woods at the edge of Ashdown forest is Bluebell Vineyard Estates. Like many of our vineyards, it specialises in the production of award-winning, estate-grown English sparkling wines using the traditional method—the same method used to create champagne. Boasting the Hindleap range, Bluebell Vineyards picked up an impressive haul of 16 medals at international wine competitions last year. Similarly, Davenport, which has vines in my constituency, has won a whopping 35 awards since its establishment. Most impressively, both winemakers received silver medals at the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition last year—something that would have been unheard of 20 years ago.

Last month, I celebrated the English wine industry’s success in Parliament, where top wine critic, Matthew Jukes, hosted a tasting and took the opportunity to boast about its stunning quality. It is no wonder that last year, for the first time, English wineries became official suppliers to No. 10. Chapel Down and Ridgeview are now official suppliers for Downing Street receptions, and I believe that Her Majesty the Queen serves English sparkling wine at state banquets, showing commitment to, and confidence in, our wine industry.

UK-produced wine accounts for around 1% of the wine purchased in the UK, but the sector has high aspirations and great potential. It is no longer just a few people growing vines in their back gardens. Bluebell Vineyard has more than doubled in size since opening in 2005, and now has 70 acres and 100,000 vines. Just on my doorstep, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), is the Rathfinny wine estate. The estate was established in 2010 and has the potential to produce more than 1 million bottles of Sussex sparkling wine annually within a decade. Rathfinny could develop into one of the largest vineyards in England and even the largest in Europe.

There is a real appetite to invest in British soil, and the industry has seen significant overseas investment over recent years. Champagne houses such as Taittinger and Pommery have already invested in growing English grapes, and such ventures show no signs of stopping.

In 2015, sales of English sparkling wine hit £100 million, and overseas markets grew by one third. There is a huge appetite in the industry to continue that trend; indeed, our winemakers have pledged to produce 10 million bottles by 2020, with 25% of those for export. In a post-Brexit world, we must do all that we can to get behind industries that show the sort of potential of our wine industry. What better way to support our wine industry than by giving the world a taste and by serving UK-produced wine and sparkling wine in our 268 embassies, high commissions and consulates around the world? What could be a more appropriate setting to promote English wine than the famed ambassador’s reception?

However, the lack of consistency in embassy policies on hosting and serving British products means that we are missing opportunities to show those products off in new markets that should be fertile territory for exports, such as China, Japan, Singapore and even India, where wine consumption among the professional classes is growing exponentially. Last week, I was told that our Rome embassy asked the UK wine industry to sponsor a wine tasting for Tuscan wines. That just is not good enough. I doubt that Italy’s outposts here in London serve anything other than Italian wine.

The Bill would enable us to have a consistent top-down policy from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to require embassies, where possible, to serve British wines and thus to promote British exports. Our embassies, high commissions and missions abroad are an extension and projection of our country’s brand. Showing support for high-quality and high-profile indigenous products such as our award-winning wines will demonstrate a confidence in our country and a belief in the opportunities ahead of us.

Britain’s largest wine producer, Chapel Down in Tenterden, Kent, has just signed a distribution deal in France, of all places. I look forward to the very best of our wines creating a splash in Paris—and in Berlin, Madrid and Rome, for that matter—and perhaps helping to oil the wheels of the Brexit negotiations to come. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Nusrat Ghani, Sir Peter Bottomley, Nick Herbert, Tim Loughton, Neil Parish, Mr Nigel Evans, James Duddridge, Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Sir Julian Brazier, Chris Bryant, James Heappey and James Cartlidge present the Bill.

Nusrat Ghani accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 154).