Twelve of Sussex’s larger vineyards have joined forces to launch Sussex Wineries, a new marketing body to promote the vineyards of the two counties.

The organisation officially launched on Monday night with a reception held at chef Michael Bremner’s Murmur restaurant on Brighton seafront. Invited guests from the industry and media enjoyed a selection of locally produced wines alongside dishes using seasonal Sussex produce.

“Sussex Wineries is a platform to collectively market tourism opportunities and the wonderful wines we are creating in Sussex”, said Mardi Roberts of Ridgeview Wine Estate near Ditchling.

Whilst individual vineyards will continue to have their own commercial objectives and marketing plans, it’s hoped that the group will provide an umbrella for initiatives around marketing and tourism, and also create a unified voice for the local industry.

Mardi added: “Our objectives are closely linked to tourism and the marketing of joint promotional opportunities, alongside a regional voice for the media.

“Locally, we can work with tourist boards and food and drink promotions. Nationally we can work alongside UK promotional bodies, and highlight international tourism to our fantastic region.”

With 500 plus vineyards nationally and more than 70 in Sussex alone, according to industry bible The Drinks Business the national industry turnover was in the region of £132 million in 2016.

It is clear that winemakers are taking the challenge of growing and producing quality wines head-on, with demand for English wine currently outstripping supply.

“Sussex is already becoming known across the world as a wine growing region”, said Mark Driver of Rathfinny Wine Estate near Alfriston.

“Sussex has the highest concentration of commercial vineyards in the UK and many producers are already exporting across the globe. It’s not about competing with Kent and Hampshire or saying we’re better, we’re saying we’re here, come and taste our wines, visit our wonderful wineries and enjoy the fantastic Sussex countryside”.

“We hope that Sussex will become as important a wine region as Champagne or Burgundy is to France. By working together, we aim to promote the best of Sussex to the widest possible audience”.

The Downs shares a very similar ‘terroir’ to the Champagne region of France; chalky soils with good drainage, a relatively high latitude meaning longer grape ripening times, a sheltered position with warm summer days and cool nights, and – compared to much of the UK – a relatively dry climate.

“There are lots of benefits of being in Sussex”, said Kristin Syltevik of Oxney Estate. “A key one is climate. We are in the warmest part of the UK and being in a very marginal climate that’s a massive advantage. We will as a result have riper fruit which means better flavour”.

Many grape varieties including Pinot Blanc and Bacchus thrive across the south of England, but the terroir of the South Downs particularly lends itself to the traditional Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, making Sussex home to the most acclaimed sparkling wines in England which can be found on restaurant and bar lists not only in the UK but also globally, and on the shelves of supermarkets including Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Sussex’s producers are regularly winning international awards that pit them against both still and sparkling wines from much more well-known and longer established wine growing regions.

“It’s a really exciting time for English wines”, said Collette O’Leary of Bluebell Estate, north of Newick. “Quality continues to improve, sales are buoyant and there’s a real buzz around the industry. But the truth is that English wine is still a relatively young and emerging industry trying to make a name for itself and, once you leave the heartlands of wine production, the profile can still remain quite low”.

Wine tourism - defined as a gastronomic and travel activity where the primary driver is the enjoyment of wine - is a lucrative global market worth many hundreds of millions of pounds. Just as there has been a trend for UK farmers and others involved in rural land management to diversify into tourism-related areas such as glamping, adventure activities, farm shops and cafés, so the wine industry sees both the financial and brand-awareness benefits of opening their cellar door to visitors for tours and tastings.

Kirsty Goring of Wiston Wine Estate, located to the north of Worthing said Sussex “is the gateway to the South Downs winemaking region with so many tourists coming through Gatwick and Brighton”.

She added “For us at Wiston, Sussex Wineries is about growing UK rural tourism. Through working with local partners we become part of a broader and more visible region than just our single Estate”.

The group is keen to raise the profile of Sussex as a destination for wine lovers through visits to the vineyards and establishing trails around the county.

“We plan to shine a spotlight on the world-class wines produced in this region”, added Collette O’Leary of Bluebell. “Promoting our cellar doors and tasting rooms, holding vineyard and city-based wine tastings, putting on special events and ultimately giving consumers the chance to taste for themselves what we are all excited about. People know about the wine routes of California and South Africa, but don’t realise there are award-winning wines, wine tours, tasting rooms and wine experiences right on their doorstep. ”.

“Brighton is the gateway to these amazing, beautiful wineries and once people have had a chance to try the wines we are confident they won’t turn back”.