Farmers raised a glass to English and Welsh wine production on Tuesday 7 January, the eve of the Oxford conferences, in a debate with Innovative Farmers.

The Great Wine Debate, a fringe event open to people attending both the Oxford Farming Conference and Oxford Real Farming Conference, saw more than 120 guests enjoy and discuss wine samples with a panel of UK wine producers.

The event, which has previously debated beer, cider and cheese, aims to bring all types of producers together to talk about the benefits of farmer innovation. At the wine debate the four panellists discussed how the actions they take on farm effect the finished product and delegates were able to learn more about their production methods and business models.

Chaired by Anna Hill, presenter of BBC Radio Four’s Farming Today, the debate saw the wine producers lead discussions with the floor on different methods for tackling today’s farming challenges, including changing weather patterns, encouraging people to buy local, and fighting weeds and mildew while protecting nature.

Speaking at the event, panellist Will Davenport of Davenport Vineyard said: “My parents farm apples and actually a lot of innovation that comes out of fruit farming can be very useful for viticulture, so it’s really key to have good communication between all different types of growers. There’s a lot of common ground among all farmers and shared knowledge is really important.”

The panel also included Cameron Roucher, of Rathfinny Estate in East Sussex; Emma Lundie, of Forty Hall Vineyards in north London; and Robb Merchant of White Castle Vineyard in Abergavenny, Wales.

The free debate, in its fourth year, was run by Innovative Farmers, the not-for-profit network with free membership that brings farmers, growers and researchers together to find out about and take part in farm-based trials called field labs.

“We would like to thank everyone who took part in the Great Wine Debate, it was brilliant to see so much enthusiasm for British wine and for British farming in its many forms,” said Helen Aldis, Innovative Farmers Development Manager. “The event was an enjoyable way for people from both conferences to experience the ethos of Innovative Farmers in encouraging farmers from a diverse range of systems to share knowledge on the different challenges they face and sustainable solutions.”

Speaking to Cameron and Robb on Wednesday’s episode of Farming Today on BBC Radio Four, presenter Charlotte Smith said: “I am going to admit that everything I thought I knew about English and Welsh wine has been thrown out of the window because you have both turned up with bottles of red. I didn’t think we could make red wine worth making here in the UK.” 

Robb talked about the vision for White Castle and its focus on quality still wine production. Robb, and his wife Nicola, are very dedicated to Pinot noir précoce which does very well in their microclimate and he also talked about the estate’s recently planted Cabernet franc.

Cameron talked about the UK’s climate being ideal for sparkling wine and the fact it is getting more consistent year on year: “In the last 10 years I have noticed a slight change in seasons and how the weather patterns are affecting our growing. Our 2018 Pinot noir is not marketed under the Rathfinny label but under Cradle Valley. 2018 was a wonderful season and we don’t expect to make a red wine every year.”