English Wine Debate

Neil held a Parliamentary debate on the English Wine Industry in Westminster Hall. English wine is a huge success story and production is set to double to over 10 million bottles a year by 2020. Neil asked the Minister responsible for Food and Drink, George Eustice, what action the Government can take to boost the industry further.

You can watch the debate at this link

Neil Parish: 

I beg to move that this House has considered the English wine industry.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I am glad you have such confidence in me. I am very pleased to have been asked to be an English wine champion in Parliament by the United Kingdom Vineyard Association. I am also glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) is my counterpart for the Welsh wine industry.

Ever since Roman times, UK landowners, monks and noblemen have all tried to cultivate a domestic wine industry, but to little or no avail. During the Norman era, almost 1,000 years ago, the Domesday Book recorded vineyards in 42 separate locations. However, the colder and wetter weather of the middle ages soon put an end to that, and so our Norman conquerors continued this country’s long tradition of importing wine. In fact, to this day we still import more of our wine from France—more than £900 million worth every year—than from any other country.

In 2008, when I was in the European Parliament and we were talking about the wine regime, I said in one great moment of bravado that we will actually produce more wine than the French. I rather fear that I may not live long enough to see that happen, but we do know that English wine production is going in the right direction.

Julian Knight MP: I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. We all see wine in the context of France—our nearest neighbour and obviously a major producer—but does he agree that British wine has a unique taste? It is naturally effervescent and has a delicate mineral presentation to the palette. It is an excellent product, worthy of international acclaim.

Neil Parish: 

My hon. Friend is so right, is he not? It is the best wine in the world; there is no doubt about that. I have never undersold anything in my life, and certainly not when it comes to English wine and Welsh wine—is there even a little Scottish wine somewhere? Hopefully not. Seriously though, it is great that we have this wine. I will come to this, but we have a very new wine industry, so we have the very latest equipment and the very best methods—and some great soil and some great grapes—so we have every chance to have good wine.

English wine is now the fastest growing agri-sector in the UK and last year alone it added £100 million to the UK economy. There are now more than 500 commercial vineyards in the UK, with as many as 5,000 people being employed across the sector. The acreage of planted vines has doubled in the last decade and by 2020 the UK wine industry is expected to produce about 10 million bottles a year, with 25% of English wine being exported, and that is a very conservative estimate.

James Cartlidge MP: With those great figures, does my hon. Friend agree that one way to promote English wine would be to serve it in all our embassies around the world, and in Parliament and all our Government buildings? For example—to take one completely at random—Giffords Hall Rosé from Suffolk, or indeed Copdock Hall Rosé from Suffolk, would make a great addition to any of our fine embassies.

Neil Parish: Obviously there is great wine from Suffolk, as there is across all our counties of England and Wales, and it is right that we promote it in our embassies and in Parliament, in the restaurants and when we buy wine from Parliament, especially sparkling wine but also others.

Rebecca Pow MP:  I commend my hon. Friend. I was made a snipe champion, so I rather think I have drawn the short straw, given that he was made a wine champion. My hon. Friend makes an important point. Should we not put our wine together with all our other amazing produce, such as our cheese, our cream and our butter, to promote tourism in the UK, perhaps with the Great British Food Unit behind it, so that we sell our great food and drink much better—Staplecombe Vineyards produces some of that wine; it is in Taunton, so obviously it must be good—and really make it part of our sales pitch?

Neil Parish: 

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. She is right, and we are conducting an inquiry at the moment into rural tourism, so this is very much about the food, the drink, the wine—everything is there. We can compete with our continental cousins extremely well. Let us go out and actually do it.

There are as many as 50 wineries and vineyards in Devon alone, with UK vineyards appearing as far north as Yorkshire. From growers in East Anglia reporting higher yields to Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall having a “fourth good year in a row”, the English wine industry is going from strength to strength.

Let me turn to the reasons for that growth. Many parts of England have always had the same chalky limestone soils as the Champagne region, but now English wine makers are catching up because our climate is improving. In blind tastings, some English wines are now beating the great Champagne houses at their own game. Therefore, with climate changing, we have every chance to produce the very best sparkling wines; dare I say—I will probably be sued—almost champagnes?

Tim Loughton MP: Not only are we beating them in competition, but the French are now admitting, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” because the houses of Taittinger and Pommery have both bought acreage and joined up with English vineyards in the United Kingdom to produce English sparkling wine that is better than French champagne.

Neil Parish: 

My hon. Friend has obviously been looking at my speech, because I shall mention that in a minute. There is no doubt that they are buying up land. We have to be careful; we do not want to be entirely overrun by France, especially given the history. Seriously, though, ​what the French are bringing is the investment and the expertise, so if we can work together, I believe that English wine, in particular sparkling wine, has huge potential.

There is some more good news. Statistics produced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs show that an additional 75,000 acres of land are suitable for producing English sparkling wine. That is equivalent in size to the whole of the Champagne region, which just shows how much potential there is for growth.

Only last year, the champagne producer Taittinger purchased some land in Kent to establish its first UK vineyard. Prime vineyard land in the UK is actually much cheaper than in France and many of our arable farmers are also beginning to see that attraction. Vineyards are quickly becoming part of farm diversification, and with the added bonus of shops, cafés, tours, weddings and wine tastings, vineyards and wineries can provide a much needed boost for agri-tourism and rural jobs.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP: Further to that point, will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sharpham Wine and Cheese, which does just that? It is not only producing fantastic wines but fantastic cheeses and is providing a welcome tourist centre for tours, sharing expertise and creating valuable local employment.

Neil Parish: 

I very much commend the Sharpham vineyard, because, once again, it is reaching out. It is producing a good wine, and then we can have good local food and bring more and more tourists down to the south-west, provided that we dual the A30 into Honiton while we are it and along the A358 to Taunton—that was not part of my speech.

English wine is now of such a good standard that our Government and embassies are confident of promoting English sparkling wine across the world—I am sure we will hear much more about that from the Minister. I even heard on the grapevine—sorry about that—earlier this year that Chapel Down in Kent had become Downing Street’s official wine supplier. Unfortunately, however, less than 1% of wine drunk in the UK is from our shores, so for a start let us ensure that a variety of English and Welsh wines are sold in Parliament, Government buildings and our embassies, and are not just found in Downing Street.

Parliament’s bars and restaurants are selling French champagne and Italian prosecco, as well as wines from Chile to New Zealand. It is great to have these wines here, but we really must have our English wine here. Even worse, the House of Commons-branded wine is not actually from the UK. If we are going to promote English or Welsh wine globally, we really should get our own House in order first.

It is true that English wine is generally a little more expensive, so the Government must look at what can be done to create a level playing field. In the UK, as much as 60% of the cost of an average bottle of wine goes on tax—so I expect our great Minister here to reduce the tax on our wine immediately. That 60% in this country compares with about 21% in France. Excise duty is too high in this country and punishes domestic wine producers the most, who pay duty even before the wine is sold. At the last Budget in March, all other drink sectors received duty freezes, but the wine industry saw a duty rise. There is therefore a serious point to be made: our growers of ​wine and grapes should be treated fairly. If wine continues to go unnoticed and unprotected by Government, there will be a growing impact on the industry right across the board, from small to large producers.

It is also vital that the UK rejoins the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, the OIV, which is the global organisation for science and technical standards in the wine trade. The British Government left the organisation in 2005, citing cost, but all the big wine producers are members, including most of Europe. OIV members account for some 80% of global production. We need a seat at the top table to help to construct the rules covering this global trade. Will the Minister commit to the UK re-joining the OIV? In addition, the English wine industry reports that there are not enough approved pesticides. The green book of UK-approved pesticides gets thinner every year. Any assistance or reassurance that the Minister can give us and the industry that the issue will be given close attention will be much appreciated. We need a level playing field with our European counterparts.

I want English wine to be a big Brexit success story. The Government are committed to boosting British exports to growing markets around the world. Where better to start than English wine, where many of the top export markets are in Asia? When negotiating a new trade deal with the EU, the Government should look to secure tariff-free access for wine produced in the UK. That should also be a priority for trade deals with other nations. We also need a national scheme equivalent to the EU’s protected geographical status. We must protect our names and the particular association of English sparkling wines as being a high-quality product. The protected geographical indications currently cover British products such as west country lamb and Exmoor Jersey blue cheese. I was pleased therefore to hear that the Government were considering registering the name “Sussex” as a kitemark brand for sparkling wine. What progress has been made on that registration? Where does Brexit leave the opportunity to have protected regional brands? We also need to focus on training and skills. Vineyards must get the necessary labour post-Brexit to realise their full potential.

Finally, if we allow our producers equal competition against subsidised wine industries in other countries, we will definitely need a new farming support regime. We must help and encourage those who produce and export the very best English wine. Minister, there are a lot of them. There is so much more we can do to encourage this growing industry, whether through promotion, name recognition or making tax changes to help exports. English wine can be an even better success, so let us uncork its great potential.