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UK touted to become wine tourism hub

With more than 100 wineries now open to the public, the UK has the potential to become a “major player” in the world of wine tourism, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

The Rathfinney Estate in Sussex

Tourism is now the UK’s third largest service export and in 2014 directly contributed £60 billion to the UK economy, however the WSTA believes wine tourism to be an untapped asset for continued growth in the sector. With the average US wine tourist spending £650 per trip on wine-related activities, the WSTA believes this could be replicated in the UK.

“With an ever-increasing number of tourists, as well as a growing export market for English wine, it is an exciting realisation that our vineyards and wineries are competing with the best in the world”, said Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

As the English sparkling wine industry has grown, so too has the potential for tourism with many wineries rapidly expanding to capitalise on growing visitor numbers, adding restaurants, cafés and accommodation.

Julia Trustram-Eve, Marketing Director, English Wine Producers said: “Vineyards are using increasingly creative methods to host visitors, from guided tours and visitors’ centres to places to stay and on-site restaurants. The growth in awareness and enthusiasm in locally-sourced and produced food has heightened the interest in rural tourism and the exciting work being done at vineyards across the country. As English wines become available in pubs, restaurants and retail outlets, it is great to see visitors given the chance to look behind the scenes. Wine tourism, in whatever guise, is something that is a growing area in the UK wine industry.”

Sam Linter, of Bolney Wine Estates, confirmed a “marked increase in the number of visitors to Bolney Wine Estate since 2013”, with around 10,000 people visiting last summer.

“This summer, we are experiencing a similar volume of visitors and next year, we are looking to expand further”, said Linter. ” With a more open space, we are hoping to welcome even bigger groups to our vineyard and with a new balcony overlooking the vineyard, we hope to provide the perfect location for visitors to enjoy a glass of wine and bite to eat. Looking to the future, we’d love to see wine tourism here growing into an even more prominent feature of the wine industry.”

Elsewhere, the Rathfinney Estate has expanded its winery and visitor facilities to accomodate more visitors, and now boasts a bed and breakfast and new vineyard footpath.

“Year on year we expect the visit numbers to increase but we are keen to do it in a sustainable way, focusing on our customer experience”, said Mark Driver, owner of the estate. “We aim to be a destination for wine lovers both home and abroad.”

As the 2015 harvest approaches, English winemakers are said to be “cautiously optimistic” for a great vintage, following frost-free spring conditions and a heatwave during flowering.

The UK is currently home to 470 vineyards and 135 vineyards, which predominantly produce sparkling wine (66%), still white (24%) and red/rosé wines (10%). The most commonly planted grape variety is Chardonnay (21%), followed by Pinot Noir (19%) and Bacchus (9%).

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