Sparkling future hope for Welsh wine industry

Image caption White Castle vineyard in Monmouthshire is planning to expand

Welsh vineyards are now producing around 100,000 bottles of wine a year according to the association that represents them.

That is an increase of 70% in the last decade as more and more brands are coming onto the market.

What you might expect to see in the countryside of Italy, France or in California is becoming a more regular sight here.

There are now around 20 vineyards operating in Wales and a sign of its growth is the establishment of a Welsh Vineyard Association.

Wine Trails Wales has also been launched to show the part it can play in the tourism industry.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A map showing the spread of vineyards in Wales

In 2004, Welsh vineyards produced around 30,000 bottles of wine every year.

Over the last decade there has been a significant increase with around 100,000 bottles of red, white, rose and sparkling wines being made in Wales every year.

Jabajak at Llanboidy in Carmarthenshire is a hotel with a five-star restaurant. It has now added wine produced at its own vineyard to the menu - at a cost of £32 a bottle.

After years of growing, it has only just produced its first wine but that won a silver international equivalent award. Setting up a vineyard is expensive and it takes a long time before the income flows in.

This family-run business says the soil and slate of the Welsh terrain produces great tastes if you pick the right grapes.

Image caption Amanda Stewart-Robson said soil, climate and grape were all factors for Welsh wine's characteristics

Owner Amanda Stewart-Robson said: "It's about the varietal [type of grape] that you choose. We're not snow-ridden 12 months of the year or rain-ridden - even though maybe people think we are in Wales.

"We don't need a hot sunny climate. Chardonnay does, other grape varietals don't - it's about choosing the right one for our climate and terroir [soil and land]."

"Historically the industry has not had the knowledge in this neck of the woods and there are a few who've pioneered - Ancre Hill, White Castle,Llanerch, and now we're trying it this far west.

"We're taking it seriously, It's not about a hedgerow wine or a massive commercial enterprise, but producing quality.

"There's no reason we can't do it in Wales and make Wales a region like the New World did against France."

White Castle vineyard near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire has been going since 2008. It offers tours and tastings as a way of selling its wines.

Owner, Robb Merchant, is behind the Welsh Vineyards Association and the wine trail and he says what is being produced in Wales is now amongst the best in the world especially in sparkling wines.

"People are trying to buy more local," he said.

'Pretty labour intensive'

"Wine is improving. 10 years ago it had a really bad reputation. Wine-making skills and equipment have changed."

The enterprise is a 15-year dream, with a south-facing field bought in 2008 and a lot of research and development.

As well as a tasting experience for tourists, the vineyard also supplies local restaurants and some London clients.

"There's a lot of work, not physically, but tending all the vines it's pretty labour intensive," he said.

"Start up costs are quite expensive, it's three years before you get a harvest."

Mr Merchant is optimistic for the future, particularly in south east Wales.

"It's a growing industry, in the last three months I've had two inquiries from Monmouthshire alone from people planting small volumes of vines to explore an option to their farming."

He said there were "rapid changes" in the reputation of English and Welsh wines, especially for sparkling wines.

"Still wine is a little more difficult to produce but that is improving as well. To those people who had that bad perception - just come and taste."

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