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Wine - Brief History of English and Welsh Wine

English and Welsh Wine

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Wine - Brief History of English and Welsh Wine
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English and Welsh Wines

History

It was the Romans who first introduced vines and subsequently, wine to England following their invasion of the country in AD 43. There are no records to suggest that vines existed here before that time. Belief is that fragments of wine amphorae discovered from before the Roman invasion came with the Belgae who had a liking for wine.

The climate in England during the Roman invasion was warmer than now and suitable for wine making. Evidence uncovered shows vineyards appeared on a commercial scale throughout the south.

The Romans quit English shores in the 4th century, but drinking wine continued. Whether that was local wine or imported is unclear. The Viking invasion in the 8th century destroyed much if any of the remaining vineyards and the art disappeared in England until around the 10th century.

1066 and the arrival of William the Conqueror brought French abbots and their wine making skills. The Domesday Book shows 42 definite locations of vineyards, mainly in Southern England.

Throughout the Middle Ages, right through to the 20th Century the art of viticulture again declined. Wine making took place mainly in monasteries and one reason for the decline was the Dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. The climate also changed during this 600-year period becoming wetter, with cooler summers and milder winters, neither being helpful to successful viticulture. French and other foreign wines began to arrive in Britain from the 12th century making it a less profitable industry for indigenous wine.

Records show that some vineyards did exist including 20,000 vines at Lord Salisbury’s estate planted by famous botanist John Tradescant and at Painshill Place in Surrey. The Honorable Charles Hamilton planted the vines in 1740 and wine is still produced there today.

The Comeback

Wine production in the UK all but stopped until after the 2nd World War. In 1945 Edward Hyams and Ray Barrington-Brock, now called the pioneers of the English wine industry, began trials in their own gardens of different grape varieties. The first vineyard of the “Comeback” appeared in Hampshire in the 1950’s.

The 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s saw a rapid rise in vineyards to well over 400 and by the 90’s the area under vines was more than 2,000 acres. There has been a slight decline in those numbers into the 21st century but without doubt English and Welsh wines are enjoying a healthy revival.

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