Scientists have secured a £600,000 loan to help boost Kent's celebrated wine industry .
A team of viticulturists and scientists at NIAB East Malling Research (EMR) have secured the cash to create a wine innovation centre with other industry experts.
It will be invested in helping growers boost their productivity, improve consistency and adapt to climate change.
Kent grape growers have seen huge demand for their tipples over recent years, bagging a host of top awards.
The region’s wine industry accounts for more than 70% of the wine produced in the country. In 2019, three million vines were planted with the amount of land under vine rising by 79% to 3,500 hectares over the last five years.
The funding was secured from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) under its Growing Place Fund.
The scientists have joined forces with several new businesses joining the East Malling Viticulture Consortium, representing interests from growers and supply companies from both the UK and near continent.
Geoff Taylor, chairman of the East Malling Viticulture Consortium, said: “This is excellent news and the NIAB EMR scientists can now build upon their high-level research to offer grape-to-glass support to UK winemakers.
“The quality of the area’s sparkling wine has been recognised around the world, winning many leading international awards. While sparking white wine accounts for nearly 70% of all UK wine, there is the real opportunity to achieve the same reputation for our still white wines and bring quality red wines to the market.”
The Wine Innovation Centre, operated by NIAB EMR on behalf of the East Malling Viticulture Consortium builds upon the research vineyard, laboratory and winery, opened last year by Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling.
Dr Julien Lecourt, NIAB EMR’s head of viticulture and wine research and development, added: “This sends out the very positive message to UK and international growers that there is a commercial ambition to build a successful viticulture industry in the country, with research and innovation delivering consistency and quality at its heart.”
The vineyard and research laboratory sit alongside the winery, which uses the latest equipment to process up to 500kg of grapes at a time to produce small batches of wine. The computer-monitored wine production is undertaken in temperature-controlled tanks, making it possible for the scientists to produce highly replicable wines and fully control the pace of fermentation.
The East Malling Viticulture Consortium has been joined by OvinAlp Fertilisation to develop nutrition programmes for UK vineyards, and SCDC – Le Fil Metallique will trial trellising systems for UK vineyards. To help develop bio-pesticide solutions for the UK industry, the consortium has been joined by Eden Research, based at Poulton in Gloucestershire.
MDCV, one of the largest UK wine producers, has also joined the consortium’s existing members, including Chapel Down, Gusbourne, Halfpenny Green Vineyard, Hencote, MDCV UK, and Nyetimber.
Christian Brodie, chair of SELEP, said: “This burgeoning industry for the region has the potential to experience accelerated growth, providing an excellent economic boost for the South East following the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s transition out of the EU.
“The Wine Innovation Centre will allow NIAB EMR to provide independent research and innovation for the viticulture sector, helping to increase wine productivity in the UK. This project will also open up the South East region to a new talent pool, drawing highly skilled workers to the area and potentially providing job opportunities for the cohort of graduates who are beginning their careers in highly uncertain times.”
The £600,000 loan will be repaid by NIAB EMR to SELEP by 2026.