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Growing grapes in the UK

I’m talking to someone I know who is a second generation wine maker here at Camel Valley. And we are talking about climate change and how is climate change going to impact his wine making business. We first planted vines in 1989 and our first harvest was ‘92. Before we decided to plant vines, we used to farm sheep here. There’s not very many sites in the southwest of England that you can plant vines and it be viable. But it turns out this site here, we’re the furthest away from the sea that you can be in Cornwall but this side of Bodmin Moor.
So we have a high temperature in the summer because we’re further away from the sea and we have less rainfall because we are to the west of the moor before the rain starts. So it’s the driest and warmest place you could be in Cornwall. If you look at the 10 year moving average of the summer weather, for us, it’s two degrees warmer than it was when we started. This is the fourth year in a row. We’ve had an excellent crop. The weather has just become more suited to growing the varieties that we grow. And average production is about 130,000 bottles a year. About 70% of that is sparkling and 30% still wine. But that can vary.
So a year like 2014, we make 50% still. In a year like 2013, we make 15%. Is it the weather in that particular year that drives you to change to shift the production between the two types of wine? Essentially, yes. So, what you want for sparkling wine is a higher acidity and a lighter flavour. And you get that in cooler conditions or if you plant some varieties in warmer conditions. In contrast, for still wine, you want lower acidity, more character. And that’s very good for still wine. So in each year, we can decide where different juices are going to go, to still or sparkling. And really, it helps us to maintain the quality of what we produce.
Is the objective still the same, or are you thinking about tweaking it slightly to account for changing weather? We actually have quite a lot of tolerance for it to get warmer and to carry on doing the things that we do. So it’s nowhere near as warm as champagne. And so to make sparkling wine, we know it can get a lot warmer and a lot easier. We haven’t experienced some of the net downsides of things being warmer just yet. So we currently don’t have any insects that like vines, that it’s too cold for them to live here still.
But yeah, you can see some of the pests are migrating north, and that could become a concern if things only really get a degree warmer. So, the threat of climate change for us are apparent. So we could get rain at the wrong time of year every year. We’ve noticed in France that they’ve started to get hail at the wrong time of year and that hail could easily be something that could happen in the UK in September just because– it just doesn’t because the way the weather works at the moment. It has done, but it’s not something that we have to– it’s very rare.
If we were getting less clouds or cooler weather at the wrong time of year, then frost could be a problem as well. So actually, it’s been pretty cold this morning, unusually cold I would say for October. This is interesting because most people, when we talk about climate change, they understand warming, global warming. But you are talking about cold nights, about increasing chance of frost. Yes. So when you plant your vineyard in here, you’re looking at 30, 40, 50, possibly 100 years ahead. Would you consider climate change in that equation? I think for us, if we had to– if it became too warm for a variety, we wouldn’t say, oh, we still got 30 years left. We have to wait, damn.
We just change if we needed to. But we’ve got so long to go. It would have to be a lot warmer.

In this video, Dr Martin Lukac speaks to winemaker Sam Lindo from Camel Valley vineyard in Cornwall, UK, about grape growing and climate change.

Have you ever tasted wine from the UK or from another less common wine growing region? Tell us your experiences in the comment area below. Don’t forget that you can ‘like’ or reply to comments made by your fellow learners.

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