Wales gains ground with wine support

Wales’ commercial vineyards are seeing the benefit of ramped-up support from the government and producers are discussing the viability of setting up a group winery.

Robb Merchant, co-owner of White Castle Vineyard near Abergavenny and chairman of the Welsh Vineyard Association, which represents Wales’ 20 commercial vineyards, told DRN: “There is a lot of interest in setting up a group winery together. I am not sure of the exact business model but it would be a co-operative model of sorts, but owned by four or five individual brands. If it goes ahead it could be operational with the next two years.”

Merchant reported “a big step-change” in terms of support from the Welsh government over the past year.

“Twelve months ago we were just tagged on to a few food and drink events here and there but all of a sudden it saw the benefits in tourism and there has been a big promotion this year on Welsh wine,” he said. “We have support for agricultural growers, funding for education and some funding to showcase our wines.

“This year already we have had six events funded by the Welsh government. Wine GB and the London Wine Fair were both fantastic. It has helped us extend our reach further afield and we have been able to talk about new listings and meet with higher- profile people.

“I also work with Farming Connect on a consulting basis, helping people who have agricultural holdings and who might be interested in diversifying into viticulture. I have seen six sites over the past eight weeks.”

Merchant added that the interest in Welsh wine has helped give White Castle the confidence to expand to meet demand.

“I have 5,000 vines already producing 7,000 bottles a year and next year I will plant 2,500 vines,” he said.

“We have attracted a lot of interest because of our red wine. We just can’t produce enough. We are also seeing good sales of our port-style Welsh fortified wine, 1581.”

Welsh producers are also gaining recognition for NPD, in part due to the focus on still wines rather than sparkling.

Merchant said: “I think this is the plus point for Wales. We have lots of grapes and there are plenty of opportunities to experiment with still wines.

“We have Siegerrebe. It takes a bit of managing but produces beautiful red wines. We are looking at Cabernet Franc next. Another benefit is that it is generally much quicker to produce still wines – you could harvest in October and get the wine out in April the next year at a push, whereas sparkling would be 18-24 months minimum.”

Colin Bennett, founder of Gwinllan Conwys, said that, while English sparkling wine is “on a roll”, competing with top Champagnes, Welsh wine is different.

“Typically we produce light, refreshing wines, Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc style. The reds would be like an Australian Malbec with reasonable acidity. But now we are experimenting with different grapes, different styles.”

He added: “Thirty years ago the New Zealand wine industry was the same size as Wales is now. Look where it is going. Welsh wine is a quality product.”

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