England wine region

The Romans brought the vine to England, and the Saxons inherited their vineyards.  The Domesday Book records 46 vineyards, and this number expanded thereafter to satisfy the Norman taste for wine.  By the time of Henry VIII there were 139.
Many were owned by the Church, however, and did not survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  This roughly coincided with the start of the “Little Ice Age” with Frost Fairs on the Thames, leading to a further reduction in the surviving vineyards that had flourished during the preceding Medieval Warm Period.
The real deathknell came with the Civil War.  The victorious Puritans grubbed up the vineyards, and by the time of the Restoration the skills required to tend them had been lost.  A few noblemen continued to produce wine on their estates using imported expertise but the last of these, at Castell Coch in South Wales, was ploughed up in 1916 as part of the wartime food production effort.
Modern English wine begins in 1951, when Hambledon in Hampshire was planted with Seyval Blanc to become the first commercial vineyard since Castell Coch.  Others followed, based initially on Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau, augmented in the 1970s by other early-ripening German crosses like Reichensteiner, Huxelrebe and Schönburger.  The style was quite Germanic too, which suited the public taste at a time when Liebfraumilch was the UK’s biggest-selling wine.
The shift to full-bodied dry whites in the Eighties caused a lot of wineries to close – you can’t make Aussie-style Chardonnay in the English climate, even in the good years (two or three each decade).  But plant Chardonnay they did, because it was realised that England is well suited to produce Champagne-style sparkling wines, where underripeness and high acidity are actually required.  Much of southern England, especially the North and South Downs, lies on the same chalk as Champagne.
Today the Champagne grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are England’s most-planted varieties, and English sparkling wines compete in quality (and price) with Champagne.  Still whites are now made in a dryer style and largely from Bacchus, which is usefully similar to Sauvignon Blanc.

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