Wine has been made in many parts of the British Isles for a very long time – vines were first introduced by the Romans. The Domesday book survey of 1086 records 83 established vineyards and, until the 14th century, vineyards increased in number. Religious establishments usually maintained them and the great private houses often planted them as well. A probable climatic change, making England a cooler country, and the association of the Bordeaux region with the English crown for three centuries, plus England’s alliance with Portugal in the 14th century, contributed to a decline in English viticulture. However, even after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. Some vineyards were still producing for the owners of great properties up to 1914. Most of these vineyards were, naturally, in the south of the country but they were quite extensive.
In 1965 some enthusiasts started what became the English Vineyards Association (E.V.A.). which today has several hundred members. Many of these grow vines and make wine on a small scale, primarily for their own consumption, but there are also a number of large vineyards which make their wines commercially, and which are sold as good wines in their own right, not mere curiosities. The E.V.A. has drawn on the experience of European winemakers and its wines are seriously made. The most successful of them so far have been white. Although a certain amount of rose and even occasional red wines are produced. The Merrydown Wine Co. at Horam, Sussex, acted as winemaker to E.V.A. Members operating on a small scale and. In addition to making wine itself, has an experimental vineyard. The English vineyards are not only in the south now. Thanks to modern techniques which enable wine to be made in what previously would have been almost impossible conditions; a well-known vineyard in Lincolnshire makes good white wine commercially, and there are others planted even further north. Most of the vineyards are along the south coast especially in Kent and Hampshire; but there are several producing commercially in Suffolk and Norfolk. Some of the best are in Somerset.
Some of the classic wine grapes are used, notably the Riesling and Sylvaner, the Muller-Thurgau, Chardonnay and certain hybrids. It is probably fair to say that, while it seems unlikely that any English wine will attain the heights of greatness compared with the classics, there are good prospects in England for pleasant crisp, dryish wines of a wide variety. It has even been possible to make an eiswein in one English vineyard! Another grower diverted part of his crop into a Champagne method wine.