The demand for good quality English wine is increasing, but production levels need to substantially rise to keep up with it. Land prices here in the South East remained strong to the end of 2018, with little coming onto the open market that was suitable for vines. We await the spring market with interest as we prepare to launch land for sale.
Last year, farmers with rollover funds were enthusiastic to invest in more land and we saw competitive bidding on some of the better graded and situated parcels of land around the South East. Farming clients frequently ask us about the opportunity to move into vines, recognising the future value successful vineyard land may have. One of our clients, Ben Bardsley at Bardsley Farms, shares some of his experience. He said: “Climate change is having a bit of an impact on our future investment planting programme. We see the potential of viticulture here in Kent and if you combine this with the amount of great south facing, free draining soils that we currently farm, it is a natural fit.
“Looking to the long-term, in 20 or so years, the majority of the south facing land in Kent could be planted with vines. We see vines as part of our wider portfolio of product that we grow to meet our future customer needs, along with top fruit and stone fruit. Another reason is the future value of the land. Taking a 30-year view, the land could be very valuable as a mature and productive vineyard. We will never be able to build houses on this steep south facing land, so it could be the next best thing.
We have signed a supply agreement with the Hush Heath Estate. As a result, we have received good advice on site selection, varietal choice and planting systems from them. We have also engaged a grape growing consultant, who has given us further valuable advice. We are lucky as we can get as much advice and support as we need from the customer. We are only at the start of our exciting grape growing journey.”
Key advice therefore for other farmers presented with a similar opportunity. It is important to make sure you do your homework on the site. The Bardsleys did a considerable amount before selecting the site. For them, being partnered with an established brand will offset some of the risk.
If you are looking to choose a farming partner, take your time to get to know them and the way they operate. Aim to form a true partnership, it will be a long relationship to fully maximise the potential of any site.