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How the Department of Trade helps UK wine on the export market

Ben Raby, head of the south east at the Department for International Trade, discusses how international oenophiles are developing a nose for English wine.

English and Welsh wine is growing in popularity, both at home and around the world. The heatwave last summer led to one of the earliest harvests on record, with higher daytime temperatures and wet spring soil creating what has been described as near-perfect conditions.

The UK has the potential to be among the world’s finest producers. We have the right climate, terroir and are now developing the expertise to go with it. Wine connoisseurs around the world are raising a glass to our wines.

Producers here are taking the opportunity to capitalise on that growing reputation by selling to new markets around the world.

Three-quarters of the UK’s vineyards are in the south east, with some better-known examples including East Sussex’s Ridgeview Estate Winery, West Sussex’s Nyetimber, Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley Wines and Kent’s Chapel Down Winery, the largest sparkling wine producer in England.

In fact, Nyetimber was served to guests at Pippa Middleton’s wedding; a near-royal seal of approval to cement its status as one of the country’s best wines.

Bubbling up

2018 was a record-breaking year for UK wine sales, with the equivalent of 15.6m bottles produced for sale – more than a 250% increase on the previous year. According to the English Wine Producers trade body, in 2019 UK wine producers will plant over 2 million vines, increasing production even further and helping to meet the growing demand from fledgling export markets.

In fact, the government has pledged that exports of wine will increase tenfold, growing from 250,000 bottles in 2016 to 2.5m bottles by 2020.

UK wine is now exported to 40 countries, up from 27 in 2017, with the United States as the largest market. Other key markets include Japan, the Scandinavian countries, Canada, Australia, and China.

Sparkling wine is still the UK’s most commonly produced wine style, making up 69% of bottles produced, however, there’s plenty of opportunity for still wine producers.

Bearing fruit

One barrier that producers must overcome is the length of time it takes for vines to become productive. But research into soil types, water resources and infrastructure networks have helped identify reclaimed land from former hop fields as ideal for vines to grow.

As larger scale production brings down prices and increases the potential for exporting, and producers are feeling confident about their prospects, output will continue to rise.

Government support

Support from the Department for International Trade (DIT) is available to help producers tackle the logistical, communication and cultural challenges involved with exporting once the product is ready to go.

Sparkling wine producer Nyetimber is one vineyard that came to DIT for advice and guidance. It only planted its first vines in 1988, making it a relative newcomer compared with the France’s historic Champagne houses. It now has 170 hectares of vines in West Sussex and Hampshire and with DIT support, has won export orders in Sweden worth more than £660,000.

Hampshire-based Jenkyn Place only harvested its first Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes in 2006, but has exported across the world, most recently to Finland.

Also based in Hampshire is Hattingley Valley, which exports 140,000 bottles – 30% of its output – internationally. The United States is currently its largest export market however, Australia and Japan have also proved to be important destinations, with Nordic countries – particularly Sweden, Norway and Finland – also having a thirst for its products.

Overcoming challenges

Exporting wine and other alcoholic products isn’t without its challenges, but as with any industry, these challenges can be overcome.

For wine bound for the United States it’s important to ensure that all federal and state laws are complied with – and that’s something DIT can help with.

For example, all labels must also give indication of product quantity in both metric and US customary units – measures similar to our imperial units.

Producers also need to comply with UK excise duty rules on selling alcohol to countries inside and outside the EU.

Stronger businesses

DIT’s experience in the food and drink sector means we can provide bespoke market research for producers exploring the potential of overseas markets. This includes identifying possible distribution and retail partners, as well as providing competitor analysis and flagging any potential regulatory issues.

We have people on the ground around the world who have established networks of contacts in the hospitality sector, and we’re supporting producers with overseas visits and introductions.

The government’s new export strategy – a collaboration with UK businesses – sets out a new ambition to increase exports as a proportion of UK GDP to 35%.

We’d encourage wineries, vineyards and other UK businesses to contact us and discuss how we can help them start or grow their exporting. DIT are here to support you to diversify your customer base and income streams, and help your business grow.

If English producers like Jenkyn Place, Hattingley Valley Wines and Nyetimber can be the toast of markets overseas, others UK wineries can too.

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