My last column on British Sandwich Week elicited plenty of comments on social media and in the bottom half of the internet, and so I am tempted once again to delve into the perpetually optimistic world of PR to explore other current awareness campaigns in the food and drink sphere.

The next fortnight seems to be a popular one for such initiatives: Not only have we just entered British Tomato Fortnight (a week clearly not being enough to get through the 500,000 tonnes we get through each year – although 80pc of those are imported), but the coming week also marks National Biscuit Day, National Egg Day, National Cheese Day and National Fish and Chips Day.

Next week is National BBQ Week, for all those who like their food burnt on the outside and raw in the middle, and in an unintentional but neat juxtaposition, National Salad Week.

But I would like to concentrate on one awareness week taking place later this month which would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago, but which is now a celebration of that rarest of things: a British growth industry. 

Because June 19-25 is English Wine Week.

According to trade body WineGB, there are now 943 vineyards in the UK, which in 2023 produced 30,000 tonnes of grapes, translating into around 22 million bottles of wine – by far the largest amount ever produced in this country. 

It is interesting how English winemaking is not just growing in quantity terms, but also massively in quality.  This is perhaps best illustrated by how the balance of grapes being grown has changed in the last decade. 

Early plantings in this country were overwhelmingly hardier, cool-climate grapes such as Seyval Blanc, Rondo and Solaris; now over two-thirds of the entire national vineyard is planted with the three Champagne grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Bacchus, once the darling of the English wine world, now accounts for just 8pc of the total.

What this shows is that our winemakers are maturing along with their vines, and learning to make world-class wines in our capricious (but warming) climate.

In national terms East Anglia only accounts for less than 10pc of the total area under vine; however, the importance of wine production here is increasing rapidly.

Growing grapes is nothing new in this part of the world.  

It was the killer combination of Romans and monks who were responsible for the precursors to today’s successful vineyards.  The Romans brought vines with them when they invaded in 43AD (showing that the Italians had their priorities sorted even 2000 years ago), and the tradition was carried on in the region’s monasteries – ostensibly to provide communion wine, but you can’t help feeling that they would have salted a few bottles away to help them cope with those cold winter evenings.

Modern-day wine makers have several advantages over those early pioneers.  Climate change is giving the world plenty of challenges, but one silver lining is that growing grapes is becoming ever easier as our part of the world warms up.

Alongside the weather, our understanding of which grape varieties to grow and how to cope with the usual vineyard threats of pests, disease and winter frosts means that our local vignerons are well placed to challenge the traditional European powerhouses of wine production.

In Norfolk we are lucky to have several excellent vineyards allowing us to enjoy quality local wine.  Among them are Winbirri in Surlingham, best known for its Bacchus; Flint in Earsham, which produces a Prosecco-style easy-drinking fizz; and Chet Valley Vineyard in Bergh Apton, producer of what is for my money the closest thing we have to a Norfolk Champagne (and which also makes the delicious ‘La Rose’ own-label fizz for Jarrolds).

So English Wine Week is a very appropriate time to be celebrating East Anglian wine, so it is good to see that Norwich Wine Week is back for a second year, coinciding with the national campaign, kicking off with a three day wine festival in Chapelfield Gardens from June 14-16, and continuing all week as our local independent restaurants and bars showcase their wine lists, focusing heavily on the growing number of East Anglian wine makers.

Norwich Wine Week and English Wine Week provide a great opportunity to celebrate a national and a regional success story. 

 Winemaking is a hugely sustainable way of using land, and creates a product which always makes the world a better place.  Who wouldn’t want to raise a glass to that?

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