The renaissance of home-grown wine is often linked to the industry’s evolution from a small sector mainly driven by hobbyists to one dominated by well-educated professionals. These newcomers, who have often made vast fortunes in other sectors, have made substantial investments into the best parcels of land, the establishment of more vines, and bigger production facilities with state-of-the-art technology, and have acquired talented vineyard managers and winemakers from across the globe. On top of this, no expense is spared on branding, packaging and PR, and with quality wines continuously in the spotlight the whole world is sitting up and looking at what the UK has to offer.
However, not everyone in the industry is a ‘big player’ and seemingly as the elite rise to loftier heights, the term ‘hobby vineyard’ has started to attract a dirty connotation, conjuring images of disease riddled grapes and vinegar-tasting wines being made in people’s garages.
While this may have been the reality for some many decades ago, the increased knowledge of how to tend to vines in the UK, combined with the industry’s willingness to share this expertise and experience, and the number of skilled winemakers, some of which provide small-scale contract winemaking services, means that ‘hobby’ does not mean deficient.
For my editor’s visit this month, I travelled to the Cotswolds, see page 16, to meet a delightful couple who have just taken over an already established, three-acre vineyard. The project is openly considered a ‘hobby’ venture, one which will bring the family closer together, with viticulture offering a more rewarding pace of life and an exciting opportunity to learn a new craft.
Despite not considering themselves as a professional outfit, the wines are elegant, fresh, easy going and an ideal introduction to the English wine category. They resonate with the locality and offer consumers the chance to discover something truly charming with an incredible family-driven story.
The big brands offer familiarity for trade buyers and stocking a wine which has won multiple golds medals across a range of international wine award schemes and competitions is a safe bet, especially when adding English wine to a list or shelve for the first time.
But the trade should not be put off by small producers and should not shy away from ‘hobby’ vineyards in the assumption that they will not stand up to the estates with multimillion-pound backing. To do so is not only robbing the consumer of the chance to stumble upon something unique, but will also stifle what is an incredibly passionate, diverse sector.