"Smart" assistance for UK winemakers

Richard SmartThe UK wine industry took a further step onto the world stage with the announcement that world-famous viticulturalist Dr Richard Smart has been appointed the sustainability mentor in Plumpton College’s WineSkills initiative.

As the government's Environmental Audit Committee announced its own nationwide consultation into sustainability in the food industry, the UK wine industry is developing its own guidelines to promote sustainable vine growing and wine making.

Designed to provide the relatively young English and Welsh wine industry with the skills it needs to compete successfully on the national and international stage, WineSkills is gaining momentum as it enters its second year. Mentors offer a combination of one-to-one consultancy and sector-wide masterclasses and seminars. Richard Smart joins other industry leaders, including Mike Paul, former boss of Western Wines, and flying winemaker David Cowderoy, as mentors to the UK’s vine growers and wine makers.

Global expert

Dr Smart, who currently splits his time between Australia and the UK, is perhaps best known for his ground-breaking work in canopy management in New Zealand in the 1980s. Essentially by controlling and curbing the growth of vigorous vines in healthy soils and good climates, grapes get a chance to ripen properly rather than staying tart and stalky. A renowned author, he also acts as the viticulture editor on Jancis Robinson MW’s Oxford Companion to Wine.

No stranger to foreign climes, Dr Smart has consulted for over 200 clients in 26 countries, from individual Australian states to small family firms. A renowned expert in cool climate viticulture, his particular expertise in aspects such as choice of variety, clone and rootstock, pruning and trellising will be of particular relevance in the UK's marginal climate.

WineSkills manager Jo Cowderoy welcomed Dr Smart’s appointment. “It will make a huge difference to the industry to have someone of Richard Smart’s calibre on board in this capacity. Richard has already been very supportive to the College and we look forward to his guidance and input as we work out our [the UK’s] sustainability policy.”

Plumpton grapes“The WineSkills Sustainability Initiative has been designed to help those who want to make wine in a more sustainable way,” explained Plumpton’s sustainability coordinator, Alistair Nesbitt. “The scheme offers training – through mentoring, sustainability forums and an online information resource – and is developing best practice guidelines.”

“Sustainability” as a concept for the UK wine industry is being built around three pillars: environmental, economic and social sustainability, says Nesbitt. “I think there are some aspects that will be common sense,” he adds. “And people will engage differently according to their own circumstances. Some might want to build a carbon-neutral winery, while others will want to look at yields. It will be a broad church.”

All commercial UK vineyards and wineries are able to apply to have a mentor visit from Dr Smart via WineSkills. A series of seven forums are planned between now and June, including ones on energy efficiency, carbon footprinting, and eco-system management, and the online resources will be available when the new WineSkills website goes live in the summer.

  • WineSkills is open to all commercial vineyards in the UK.
  • Plumpton College offers a wide range of courses on viticulture and winemaking, from full-time BScs to short courses. It is open for pre-arranged visits and its Spring open morning is on 5 March.