HUNDREDS of jobs and millions of pounds of investment could be created by exploiting the potential of the South Downs National Park as a winemaking hub, according to a new report.
The national park, which stretches from Winchester to Beachy Head in East Sussex, has been home to winemakers since Roman times – and currently has 51 vineyards and 11 wineries.
But the report carried out by consultancy Vinescapes has found that at present only 0.4 per cent of agricultural land in the national park is used for viticulture, where up to 34 per cent could be suitable.
The authors found there had already been a 90 per cent increase in vineyard coverage in the national park since 2016, with about five new vineyards being planted each year.
These wine businesses employ 358 people and attract 33,000 visitors each year, contributing £24.5 million to the local economy and £54 million to the wider economy.
The study identifies 39,700 hectares of land as being suitable for viticulture and if only one-tenth of this land was to be used, it would be an area greater than the whole of the UK winegrowing sector (3,500ha in 2019) – enabling the production of 22 million bottles of wine.
The main commercial vineyards in central Hampshire are Hattingley Valley near Alresford, Raimes near Cheriton, Cottonworth and Danebury near Stockbridge and Exton and Hambledon in the Meon Valley.
The report also suggests 800 full-time jobs could be created with a £127 million contribution to the UK economy along with 75,000 visits by tourists if wine production doubles from its current size.
Nick Heasman, a countryside and policy manager for the national park authority – which commissioned the study, said climate change could increase grape-growing opportunities in the region.
He said: “Commercial vineyards have existed in the national park area since the 1950s, and there are references to vineyards in the region going back to Roman times.
“Then, as now, the special nature of the South Downs National Park provides a working landscape that helps produce world-class wines.
“This study is really important – in terms of improving our understanding of the current viticulture sector in the National Park and also the potential for wine-making to grow sustainably.
“Climate change is undoubtedly having an impact and, with warmer summers predicted in the future, we know farmers and land managers may be looking at grape-growing opportunities on their land.
“More viticulture undoubtedly has the potential to help our local communities thrive and prosper, but at the heart of our thinking is that any growth must be environmentally sustainable.”
Brad Greatrix, winemaker at Nyetimber, said that the South Downs provided an ideal growing environment and it was already looking at increasing its production.
He said: “Six of our 11 vineyards are situated on or in the lee of the South Downs, and besides providing a beautiful vista for us and habitat for local flora and fauna, there is an effect on wine quality too.
“The South Downs provide shelter for our vines from coastal weather and therefore play a vital role in ensuring the microclimate is optimal for the slow and gradual ripening of our grapes.
“Importantly, the South Downs National Park and surrounding area also contain pockets of chalk and greensand soils, which together with the protective effect of the South Downs creates ideal viticultural areas with world class potential.
“We could certainly say that some of the complexity and finesse for which our wines are known is linked to our proximity to the South Downs.
“We are excited by the growing popularity and demand for Nyetimber and as such are looking to increase our production to two million bottles a year in the next three to five years, up from the current one million.”