CHAMPAGNE, Bordeaux, Chianti… Hampshire?

Hampshire might not leap to mind when you think of the great winemaking regions of the world but local winemakers are putting it on the map.

If you think of English wines as being a bit of a joke – hobbyists making unpalatable drinks in their sheds – you’re about 30 years out of date.

Wickham Vineyard, which was established in 1984, produces some 80,000 bottles of white, red, rose and sparkling wine every year.

What’s more, it’s pulled in armfuls of awards. Recent successes have been two silver awards at the International Wine Challenge 2010, a bronze and a commended at the Decanter Awards 2010 and one bronze, four silver and a gold award as well as two trophies from the UK Vineyards Association 2010.

The English wine industry remains small – there are only around 400 vineyards and many of them don’t have a winery – but it means business.

“English wine has shaken off its novelty image,” says Liz Bateman, one of the team at Wickham Vineyard who also oversees its WineShare wine club.

“People are taking it more seriously now. The fact that it’s winning so many awards shows that it can go up against international wines.”

Fellow team member and wine expert Jonathan Rogers agrees: “I think English wines are so much better today because of education. Twenty or 30 years ago, a lot of people who developed vineyards in the UK didn’t really have any winemaking knowledge and a lot of it was done as a hobby but now you can get a degree in winemaking.”

Generally, the English wine industry has been making its mark with sparkling wines, but Wickham is particularly well respected for its still wines.

It’s good news that English wines have got better because more and more people want to drink local wine.

“Buying local seems to be important to a lot of people,” says Jonathan. “There’s more of an awareness of English wines and more people are drinking them.”

As well as boasting 40 acres of land, 18 of which is given over to vines, Wickham Vineyard has an on-site winery. Its wines are made from grapes from the Wickham vineyard as well as a sister vineyard near Ipswich and, if necessary, grapes from neighbouring vineyards are bought in.

Unlike many wines, no animal products are used in the production of Wickham Vineyard’s wines, which is good news for vegetarians and vegans.

The wines are sold through the Internet, the shop at the vineyard, some branches of Waitrose and through Wickham Vineyard’s Wine Shack wine shops. It took over 14 Threshers off licence shops when the chain closed last year.

The vineyard sells all the wine it makes, so with the demand for English wine on the increase it’s good news that this year’s weather conditions have been ideal for a bumper crop.