Vine & Dandy
Dorset and East Devon has become prime wine-growing territory. Patrick Woodford toasts the success of three top producers
The last 20 years or so has seen a surge of interest in UK winemaking particularly, though by no means exclusively, in southern England, as an accidental by-product of climate change. Rising temperatures now mean that growing conditions are close to those found in the Champagne region of France. Marry that with sheltered, free-draining, south-facing slopes and the underlying conditions become ideal for wine production, in particular sparkling wine.
A small but increasing number of landowners are seeing the establishment of vineyards and winemaking as a diversification opportunity with many spin-offs, including tasting tours, corporate events, farm tourism and visitor-related activities.
Wine production itself can be a very volatile experience with wide variations in annual grape yields according to weather conditions. While 2018 was a bumper year for growers, it followed several much more variable years including a complete washout in 2012. Added to this uncertainty, in the early years there is a period of significant capital expenditure for little or no return from the growing crop. The economics can look daunting with the establishment of infrastructure and planting of vines costing from £10,000 to £12,000 per acre, and annual maintenance costs of between £3,000 to £4,500 per acre.
Many owners of larger vineyards have taken the step of investing in their own winery, employing winemaking experts and producing their own-brand wine. Other smaller producers may grow on contract and receive around £1,500 to £2,500 per tonne delivered, or they may send their grapes to a larger winery for processing into their own-brand wine which they receive back for onward sale after paying a processing and storage charge.
My work with vineyards has encompassed valuation and tax arrangements, tenancy work and planning, while the across the firm we have dealt with a number of sales, usually as part of larger, mixed use businesses and often include a residential element. Establishment costs added to underlying agricultural land value are unlikely to be returned in enhanced capital value at present.
In our Award winning magazine, Country Matters, we look at three established and successful vineyards in Dorset and East Devon: Langham Wine Estate near Milborne St Andrew, Bride Valley Vineyard at Litton Cheney, and Castlewood Vineyard near Axminster. Each produces its own high-quality own-brand range of still and sparkling wines. Visit their websites to find out more, and find the articles on Pages 73, 74 & 75 of Country Matters.