Latest figures from the UK wine industry detail a record-breaking 2018 harvest, more land under vine than ever before, and a doubling in sales, both domestically and via export markets. Further substantial growth is also predicted over the next two decades.

A survey of the UK wine industry, conducted by its national association, Wines of Great Britain (WineGB), in conjunction with data analysts Wine Intelligence, confirmed that last year a record-breaking 15.6 million bottles were produced, 130% higher than the previous year’s crop in 2017 and far exceeding the previous record of 6.3m bottles in 2014. 

More production is forecast in the years to come as the acreage under vine is reported to have tripled since 2000 to 2,888 hectares (ha) under vine. Last year, acreages grew by 13% as 1.6 million vines were planted across 1,000 acres. In terms of distribution, the South East of England remains the largest area of vines, with plantings now totalling 2,189 ha and according to the report, 48% of the area under vine is managed by the ‘very large vineyards’ (over 18ha) whose average size now sits at 66.2 ha, up 6% from 2017.

A further two million vines are set to be planted this year. The report also shows that across the industry 28% of growers will be planting new vines over the next three years, with 67% of medium-sized producers (between three and 7.9 hectares) with plans to expand the vineyard. 

With a recent academic study from Alistair Nesbitt at Climate Wine suggesting that there are approximately 70,000 acres of land in the UK suitable for wine production, there remain plenty of opportunities for further expansion and the industry predicts that, at the current rate of growth, Great Britain will be producing 40 million bottles per year in the next 20 years.

This bodes well for the rural economy, as vineyard numbers grow and with it their workforce. Currently 2,000 people are employed within the industry, from vineyard workers to winemakers, administrative support and cellar door staff. Over the next 20 years the industry will create between 20,000 and 30,000 new jobs, showing not only the many future opportunities for labour creation and skills development in this sector but also providing a sizeable boost to the economy. 

Last year also saw significant growth in sales of English and Welsh wines as 2.6 million bottles were sold; a 186% increase on 2017. Of this total, 72% was sparkling wine, of which 75% came from the ‘very large vineyards’. 

Interestingly, the report suggests that large producers (between eight and 17.99 ha) are being out performed in sales by medium-sized vineyards. In the still category, large producers account for 9% of sales and medium 27%; in the sparkling category, large is 9% with medium 10%. 

These figures include sales from online, supermarkets, high street and independent retailers, restaurants and of course from the producers direct. In 2018 there was a clear increase in online sales and 71% of wine producers who don’t sell online are planning to sell wine through their websites soon. 

Exports also doubled in 2018 and while 80% of these were from the very large vineyards, 7% also came from medium-sized producers. The biggest export markets are currently the USA, mainly California, New York, Texas and Florida, and the Scandinavian countries Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which together receive 65% of total exports. WineGB expects that exports may account for 30-40% of the total wine produced in Great Britain by 2040, yielding a potential value of some £350 million per annum.

Helping to drive sales is wine tourism. While most visitors, 86%, are currently from the UK, there are many opportunities to attract more inbound visits through export activity in key markets. This year, clusters of vineyards in Britain are promoting their regions as go to places to visit, boosting the food, drink and hospitality industries across the country. Drawing on the experience of other established wine regions, by 2040 wine tourism in the UK could generate an additional revenue alone of £658m per annum. 

“Our latest survey acknowledges 2018 as a milestone year for the industry,” said Simon Robinson, Chairman of WineGB. “Our figures detail the considerable pace of growth taking place here in the UK and what exciting predictions and opportunities lie in the future. As a sector we are bringing many developments in agriculture, tourism, education, investment and employment. This is now a thriving and confident British industry in which we can be justifiably proud.”

The full report of the survey results
can be downloaded from the WineGB website.