Friday, 31 May 2013

Drunk through the ages - England's history of wine.

In an homage to Funny or Die's 'Drunk History' videos, I thought English Wine Week (It's English Wine Week, don't know if you realised, I think we've mentioned it once or twice) would be a good opportunity to write a painfully vague and light-hearted, although occasionally actually factual piece about the history of wine in England.

The true origins of wine production in the UK are still not absolutely clear but what is clear is that England has always had a strong relationship with wine.

Back in the day, when England was attached to the rest of europe and the climate was hotter, grape vines grew naturally throughout the country, although there is no proof that they were cultivated this early on.
As early as 75BC, wine from Italy was being imported into England by the Belgae who had been kind enough to invade and bring some booze with them. Like BYOB at a party but on a massive scale. This is one of the earliest examples of wine drinking in the country.

An ancient Roman Amphorae -
used for transporting wine.
It was most likely the Romans who started making wine in England, however not necessarily using grapes grown here. There is evidence that suggests grapes were imported and it is likely these were used by the Romans to make wine in the UK, it isn't until a few hundred years later that there is proof of grapes being grown and being used for wine. In Anglo-Saxon England, although there was wine production happening by this point, wine was still being imported, but thanks to pesky Pirates who had a habit of rape, pillage, murder and thieving wine from ships, imported wine became scarce and too much of a luxury for most. These problems with the imports meant that more and more vineyards were planted in England, mostly in order to make wine for church (see, religion is good for some things...).

By the 12th and 13th centuries, there were vineyards as far north as South Yorkshire and the wine in the south was becoming quite highly regarded. It is thought that the wines were good quality around this point because from the mid 11th century to the 14th century, there was a mini heat-wave, so everyone whacked out the factor 50 and made wine while the sun shine...d.

When the good weather stopped (it's been shit ever since), a deal was done with the good folks of Bordeaux, meaning it was cheaper to import wines from Gascony through the docks of Bordeaux, than to even buy those made in the UK, so vineyards were ripped up and replaced with other crops.

Then the Black Death happened, which was kind of a bummer for everyone. That put a stop to just about all of the other commercial wine producers that were still hanging on within the UK.

After death got a little less black and went back to normal death, more wine was still being imported from Gascony than anywhere else but more regions wines were becoming available to the UK market. As the amount of different counties and regions that wine was imported from grew, various laws and rules were introduced to protect the consumer, as so often what they were told they were buying, wasn't actually the same as what they were really buying. Although merchants and innkeepers weren't too happy about this as they were making a good living out of ripping people off. Good times.

Skipping a handful of years because sod all else happened, wine production in England is now at it's height and growing rapidly. We have now just about got the climate for quality wine production, as well as the ability to finance it and enough interest from the public in order to sell the stuff.

England has always had a relationship with wine in some form or another - we have clearly always been massive alcoholics - although wine as we now know it will have started off as something very different all those years ago. We have a rich history and hopefully a bright future ahead, and if quality keeps going the way it is, our wines will get the attention of countries all over the world. Maybe even the French.

Images from Marsala Wine and SadighGallery's photostream under the Creative Commons license.

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