Robinson: Defra should reinstate UK wine funding

Jancis Robinson MW has used her keynote speech at the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium to appeal to Defra to reinstate funding for the UK wine industry.

Jancis Robinson MW, OBE addresses ISSWC 2016 at Hilton Metropole Brighton (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Jancis Robinson MW, OBE, addresses ISSWC 2016 at the Hilton Metropole Brighton (Photo: Julia Claxton)

Speaking at the opening of the ICCWS 2016 in Brighton, where Defra minister George Eustice was in attendance, Robinson drew attention to the fact that Defra had withdrawn funding for wine training at what many people see as an important stage in the UK wine industry’s development.

Noting how far the UK wine industry had come since the idea of hosting the conference was hatched 16 years ago, Robinson appealed to Defra to reinstate its funding for the WineSkills Programme for UK wine producers at Plumpton College – the UK’s centre of wine education.

“Plumpton College’s WineSkills Programme has had to be abandoned because Defra has rescinded its funding of it – at the very time when the English wine industry has reached new heights of accomplishment and fame,” she commented.

Addressing audience members at the ninth ICCWS – the first to be held in Britain – Robinson also appealed to Defra to rejoin the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) to avoid becoming “marginalised” as a wine-producing nation.

“For some mysterious reason, Defra has failed to renew its membership of the OIV, the world’s massively important International Organisation of Vine and Wine, whose president, Monika Christmann, has taken time off to be here,” she said.

“This means that Plumpton can’t participate in international research projects, leaving it marginalised from the world of wine academe. And it also means that the British in general and English producers in particular have no voice whatsoever in international wine negotiations and regulation.

“Holland, Belgium, Sweden, India and Azerbaijahn are all members, whereas it would only take a small, five-figure sum for the UK to rejoin the OIV.

“This is surely a great shame and it would be only sensible to remedy this.”

‘Committed’ support

Defra responded to Robinson’s speech by saying that the department remained “committed” to supporting the wine industry in the UK, and that the WineSkills funding had ended because the Rural Development Programme grant scheme of which it was part had reached its conclusion.

“We would not expect to repeat funding for the same set of skills, which should now be embedded in the industry,” a Defra spokesperson said.

“We are committed to helping the UK wine industry thrive and since 2007, we have invested around £1.8 million to support sector training, diversification and business development,” the spokesperson added.

“The Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss recently pushed to open new markets for UK wine producers during her trip to the USA where she met with leading industry representatives.

Defra also said that, in October 2015, Truss also announced the release of new 3D LIDAR data mapping variations in land to help land owners pinpoint the best planting locations for vines.

Concerning the Rural Development Programme which funded the WineSkills programme, Defra said the grant scheme had been replaced by the Countryside Productivity Programme.

“We will be discussing with Plumpton College whether a new programme, building upon the previous WineSkills programme to help develop skills supporting sales, exports and growth within the sector, is appropriate,” Defra said.

Chris Foss, head of Plumpton College’s wine department and leader of the WineSkills project, commented: “We very much look forward to discussing the renewal of the WineSkills programme, as our young, rapidly-growing industry could still greatly benefit from supported training.

Concerning OIV membership, Defra said: “The European Commission is currently exploring membership of the OIV in its own right; we will await a decision from the European Commission before reviewing the UK’s own membership.”

Foss said that it would be “wonderful if we could interact with the international world of wine through renewed membership of the OIV”.

Robinson’s speech followed an address from George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Defra, who welcomed around 600 international wine producers, marketers and media from 30 different countries at the start of the three-day event.

The ICCWS is regarded as the most important academic wine conference in the world.

Speaking about the UK’s burgeoning wine industry prior to the symposium, Eustice said: “I’m delighted that for the first time ever, this significant marker in the international wine community’s calendar is being held in England. The timing couldn’t be better – with sales reaching a record-breaking £100 million in 2015 and production expected to double by 2020, there has never been a more exciting time for the English wine industry.

“Our hard-working viticulturists are producing some of the finest cool climate wines in the world, and our goal is to back their ambition by flying the flag for British produce internationally and exploiting the huge potential for increasing exports.”

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