Welsh wine makers locked down but not out

Wales’ vineyards are refusing to be beaten down by the challenges in 2020, as producers across the country diversify, revise their sales strategies and release the highest quality Welsh wine ever produced thanks to 2018’s bumper harvest.

As lockdown measures hit the UK on the 23rd March due to the coronavirus crisis, Welsh vineyards became one of the industries instantly affected with a loss of all tourist and visitor revenue, with many relying on ‘cellar door’ income through tours, events and tastings.

An unusually hot April produced early bud burst and vine development, but Welsh vineyards face many challenges day to day, much like traditional agricultural farmers. Late frosts in May meant some vineyards, particularly in the south of the country, were hit with another blow losing a significant amount of potential crop, the damage of which won’t be fully known until summer ripening and picking later in the year.

Wine producers in Wales have said there is a resilience in the industry that will help them to battle the challenges facing them this year. The sector has responded quickly with an eagerness to diversify that is helping to bolster sales. Ryan Davies from Llanerch Vineyard, the UK’s first vineyard hotel in Pontyclun, said: “As well as diversifying, we were keen to do something to help the local community. We’ve used local suppliers to make hampers with over 1000 products to choose from on our website. It’s been a great success, so we intend to keep this going beyond the lockdown.”

Undeterred by the coronavirus crisis, Llanerch Vineyard continued to plant 400 vines towards the start of April as planned and are set to plant another six to seven acres of vines next year also.

In north Wales, Gwinllan Conwy Vineyard, who usually rely on the wholesale to trade market and tours, has spent lockdown pushing its online presence instead, seeing better online sales than the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The Welsh wine industry is currently reaping the benefits of a 2018 bumper crop, hailed by Wine GB ‘the harvest of the century’, which saw a long summer heatwave meaning grapes enjoyed excellent growing conditions leading to high yields and excellent quality. White Castle vineyard in Abergavenny saw its usual harvest of 6.5 tonnes of grapes rise to 16.5 tonnes in 2018.

Robb Merchant of White Castle said:

“We’ve already released an excellent white and rose from 2018’s crop and this year will be producing three different reds from it. Passion and an ability to rise to the challenge of traditional agriculture are essential attributes for a Welsh winemaker and Wales’ industry is undeterred by adversity.”

The last two years has seen two more Welsh vineyards open, Red Wharf Vineyard on Anglesey and the Vale Vineyard in Denbighshire, totalling 31 in Wales altogether now.

Anthony Mills, senior associate at Levercliff and the Welsh Drinks Cluster said:

“This is excellent news for a burgeoning industry that has seen the number of Welsh vineyards growing steadily in recent years. There is a collective tenacity and willingness to be bold and drive the sector forward, in spite of the many challenges facing the industry in 2020. Wine drinkers should seize this opportunity to try the best wine that Wales has ever had to offer and in doing so, support Welsh vineyards as they continue their rise to ultimately become an internationally respected and sought after wine of premium quality.”

The Welsh Drinks Cluster represents Wales’ alcohol and soft drinks producers.