Direct-to-consumer sales made up half of all English and Welsh wine purchases in 2020, according to new research from WineGB.

The trade organisation’s CEO, Simon Thorpe MW, said that overall sales in 2020 rose by 30% to reach 7.1m bottles. Within that, 22% of sales were made via winery websites, while 28% were made at the cellar door.

Thorpe said: “We’re such a young industry that perhaps it’s the way one could’ve predicted it would go – but probably not as quickly as this. In some respects, the pandemic has been a catalyst for people to upgrade their website capability and their visitor facilities.”

Thorpe also pointed out that with foreign travel less available, consumers have visited more places in the UK, including vineyards. Visits to vineyards and wineries rose on average by 57% last year, with 92% of visitors coming from within the UK.

Going forward, he flagged that a lot of producers are in growth in terms of production, therefore the route to the drinker may need to shift.  The 2020 figures show that 13% of wine sales were made through national off-trade accounts, while 15% came through independent retailers.

“People have been working out how to reach the end consumer. The model, classically, is you start small, you sell most of your production direct to consumer and then you get too big to do that and you have to rely on retailers, wholesalers and distributors as a way of being able to reach a wider audience to sell the increased production that you’ve got.

“There is going to be a bit of ‘moving forward on all fronts’ as the industry has more wines to sell. It’s increasingly in the psyche of the consumer, as well, to look for an English or Welsh wine, so they will require access to be as easy as possible.”

Elsewhere, Thorpe highlighted growth in plantings, with some 1.4m vines going into the ground last year.

“Because of the delay between vines being planted and wines being produced that can be sold – you’ve got six or seven years of pipeline – it points to that continual growth,” he added.

Meanwhile, production in 2020 was down 17% on the year prior, owning to frost damage following a warm spring. However, Thorpe said the quality and ripeness from 2020 was “fantastic”, resulting in more still wines.

“There was a shift to still wine production rather than sparkling,” he said.

 The numbers show an increase in the percentage of still versus sparkling wines in 2020 – 36% compared to 28% the year prior.

“There were two key factors – one is that the grapes got riper and therefore it gave confidence to producers to make still wines. Also, there is growth in demand and consumer interest for still wines.”

As part of today’s WineGB tasting, Thorpe also outlined the trade group’s strategic pillars, featurin tourism, sustainability and export, as well as measures in leadership and wine excellence – including R&D.