Vineyards in the UK
When asked to imagine a typical vineyard or winery, most people’s thoughts would likely take them to idyllic Italian hills or a French chateau. England has not traditionally been at the forefront of people’s minds when asked to think about high quality wines from productive vineyards. The climate in the UK can be challenging for grape production, particularly the long ripening periods and unpredictable weather patterns. However, since 2008 in particular, the area of UK vines has increased dramatically to over 2,500 hectares and the wines they produce are increasingly being recognised for their quality.
This growth has been supported in part by the high-quality research output from the NIAB EMR vineyard in Kent. A recent impact report estimates the value to the UK economy of this research being over £100million in the next ten years. UK-based NIAB EMR is a globally-recognised research organisation focussed on horticultural crops and plants and their interactions with the environment. Eden has recently been working with experts at EMR with the aim of understanding the requirements for the future of sustainable viticulture in the UK and beyond.
The EMR horticultural research station was originally established in 1913 and had a major impact on the UK industry. Never before had agricultural scientists come together under one roof with the aims of:
- Promoting the improvement of existing varieties of crops in the UK;
- Promoting the improvement of methods of husbandry; and
- Investigating treatments, inventions, improvements and processes which may benefit the industry.
Already a well-established horticultural research station, NIAB EMR’s involvement in UK viticulture began with the planting of the vineyard in 2015, followed in 2016 with the establishment of a Wine Consortium between NIAB EMR and leading UK vineyards. The aim of the consortium is to fund and co-ordinate key research to support sustainable wine production in the UK. In 2020 Eden was invited to become a member of this consortium.
Research around sustainable wine production at NIAB EMR focuses on three things: people, the planet and profitability. The key elements of each are:
- People – people working in the industry must be safe and have clear future development opportunities;
- Planet – responsible use of pesticides and the integration of greener alternatives, environmentally friendly growing techniques and mitigating the effects of climare change; and
- Profitability – grape varieties must be capable of achieving high yields in this climate and quality wine must be an end result.
Eden’s focus on biopesticides, derived from natural plant chemistry, goes hand-in-hand with the research being done at NIAB EMR towards sustainable wine production in the UK. Eden’s focus is on products with reduced risks for operators, improved environmental profiles and high levels of efficacy to protect yields and quality of produce and ultimately, the profit of the grower.
In just five years, NIAB EMR is demonstrating what is possible under the growing conditions in the UK through improved management and growing systems, regularly achieving yields of 10 tons per hectare across all varieties. This is a dramatic improvement over the average UK grape yields of between 4.4 and 5.9 tons per hectare.
Ongoing trials at NAIB EMR focus on the sustainable use of existing and alternative chemistry in an integrated management approach. Because grapes have to undergo a prolonged period on the vine in order to ripen compared to many other regions in Europe, they can often be exposed to high risk of fungal infection for an extended period of time.
Climate change has been shifting the typical growing conditions in the UK and disease pressure is becoming more common in the mild, wet conditions growers are often challenged with throughout the season. Pathogens such as botrytis (grey mould) often develop late in the season on ripe grapes, which can be challenging to control. Existing conventional pesticides often have long pre-harvest intervals (PHI) which prevent their use towards the end of the season and can result in growers losing a significant portion of their grape crop to disease in a matter of days. For this reason, there is a demand for suitable alternative products with little or no PHI which give growers flexibility throughout the season.
Growers typically require high yielding grape varieties and quality wine as a final product. To achieve this, vines need to be free from disease but also free from any chemical residues. Products such as Eden’s biofungicide Mevalone® can offer such a solution as it is MRL-exempt and can be used up to 3 days before harvest. Already registered in a number of key grape growing countries across Europe, it will offer UK growers a much needed solution to botrytis pressure once registered in the UK.
Due to the smaller size of the market and therefore potential sales volumes, fewer products have been registered on grapes in the UK compared to the likes of Italy, Spain and France. However, the area under vines is growing and so too is the demand for suitable chemistry to protect them. Eden is pursuing registration in the UK for Mevalone and working with the NIAB EMR Wine Consortium will play an important role in developing a deeper understanding of UK grower requirements in future years.
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