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As a wine importer, England has a long and illustrious history. As a producer of wine, its history is just as long, yet little known.

As in so many European countries, winemaking began with the Romans. However, the vines they brought from Italy were not ideally suited to the cold, and more wine was imported than produced in Britain. There is evidence of vineyards in Saxon times, from Cambridgeshire in the east to Gloucestershires in the west, and after the Norman Conquest in 1066 winemaking flourished on a modest scale for almost 500 years, in both aristocratic and monastic estates. The tradition lingered until this century, when World War I sounded the death knell for Britain's commercial vineyards.

The current revival of English winemaking began in a small way in the 1950s, when a handful of winemakers began to experiment to find vines suited to the cool, damp climate. While the cold is moderated by the proximity of the sea, waterlogged roots make poor wine: a well-drained site is vital. Spring frosts are a hazard that can seriously reduce yields, and the vines also need wind protection. The harvest takes place throughout October, timing being a problem: the grapes need to ripen for as long as possible, but must be picked before rain or frosts can rot the bunches.

This early research paved the way for serious commercial viticulture, which began in the early 1970s; ten years later there were 450ha (1,100 acres) of vines, and by 1994, over 1,000ha (2,500 acres). Today, nearly 500 well-established vineyards produce around 200,000 cases a year.

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