‘Snowball effect’ sees English wines shake off unfavorable reputation

By Fiona Barry

- Last updated on GMT

Ickworth Vineyard in Suffolk (Picture credit: Dave Catchpole/Flickr)
Ickworth Vineyard in Suffolk (Picture credit: Dave Catchpole/Flickr)

Related tags Chardonnay

Mintel senior drinks analyst Chris Wisson predicts that English wine sales could exceed £50m ($77m) within a few years, as product quality continually improves and unfair perceptions of inferiority diminish.

English wines have begun to gain recognition in prestigious competitions, including four Gold medal wins in the May 2013 International Wine Challenge.

And Wisson told BeverageDaily.com that this third-party validation of English wine quality had boosted its popularity among consumers.

A recent survey by the research firm showed that 52% of wine drinkers in the UK think that English wine quality has improved, and 56% are more open to trying such wines than in the past.

The success of English wines has been a snowball effect, so in the past the perception that they were inferior had got to consumers – people didn’t just want to try them. They assumed they wouldn’t like them,​” he said.

Unfavorable reputation ‘hard to shake off’

Although England has always cultivated some high-quality wines, the presence of a few poor producers had damaged English wines’ reputation, Wisson added.

Arguably, with English wines, there have always been pockets of very good producers. There are isolated cases where there has not been such good quality, which put people off. And that’s hard to shake once you get an unfavorable reputation,”​ the analyst said.

Certainly over the past five years, a lot more producers have become more professional,”​ he added. “Consumers are more prepared to try them, they’re more impressed, they might recommend them to their friends.

“And supermarkets in turn are more likely to stock a wider range of them.​”

Retailers have responded to consumer demand by stocking a greater range of English wines, and developing their own labels, with a number of interesting recent launches into major multiples.

Trending in Tesco and Sainsbury’s

For instance, a bottle of Dorking-made Tesco Finest English White (with Chardonnay, Reichensteiner, Bacchus and Ortega grapes) sells for £8.99, while Sainsbury's 2007 Taste the Difference English Sparkling Wine (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier grapes also harvested in Surrey) costs £19.99.

And although English wines can cost slightly more than popular foreign brands, “wine drinkers are increasingly prepared to pay more for what they perceive to be better quality – maybe £1.50-2 extra,”​ Wisson said.

He added, however, that the on-trade is more resistant to stocking English wine than supermarkets as bars, while restaurants favour safer, established sources.

Times are very tough for the on-trade, and in a way you can’t really blame them for sticking to tried and tested methods in the short term. Australian, French and Italian wines are all guaranteed successes and English wines are more of a risk,​” Wisson told BeverageDaily.com.

However, Mintel’s research did show a gentle shift in the on-trade towards home-grown labels, Wisson added: “In five years as the economy recovers, I imagine we will see a lot more English wines. It’s happening already, but it’s probably just a lot slower than we would have seen if the economy had been better and the on-trade could take a few more risks.”

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