Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society

British Vinyards

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Geological and Climatic Controls of British Vineyards

Prof. Richard Selley

Wine production in the British Isles dates back to the Iron Age and possibly to the Neolithic period. King Verica of the Trinovantes used vine leaves symbolically and imported wine from Rome. The Romans and Celts planted vines and produced wine throughout the British Isles although planting was mainly in the east, Kent, and Lincolnshire. In Northants, 27 acres of land produced 11,000 bottles of wine/year similar in type to that from the Moselle. In AD 60, there was a record describing methods of planting and it was obviously big business. The Saxons tended to drink mead and beer, but the medieaval Domesday Book records 42 vineyards, mainly in the south of England although a few extended into Wales.

Every monastery had its own vines and this continued until the Black Death. When Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine, he imported wine from France, but by the 14th Century viticulture declined due primarily to a mini ice age and the plague. A further mini ice age occurred in the 17th and 18th Centuries when vines could only survive in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Paines Hill with its folly and vineyard is on a SE facing slope of Bagshott sands dating from the Eocene. This was developed in the 18th Century and benefits from the light reflected from the lake. There is also an area of about 7 acres of south facing scarp comprised of greensands near Dorking and Deepdean, which has been used for vines since 1660.

Modern Production

Within the British Isles, the main concentration of vineyards is in Kent and extends across the south although there is a spread northwards. The peri-glacial dry valley by Box Hill is south facing. The chalk scarp profile is similar to the Champagne region of France. The chalk is fractured and therefore drains well and is preferred by vines, its pH is 8.5.

Viticulture requires geological controls. The vines are scattered throughout most types of soil but the soil is controlled by an interplay of geology and climate. Topography is normally south facing as it attracts more sunlight. Today most vines are grown in polytunnels.

Wine lands in Britain

Abandoned - Green Hills (never replaced) Surrey replanted
Renaissance – Thames Valley
Virginal - Cornwall and Wales
Future – Peak and Lake District, then Scotland if global warming continues.
The geology of Loch Ness is similar to the Cape region of South Africa.

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