It has been said that the vine was introduced into England by the Romans; but if so, it could not have been till near the close of their influence, for Tacitus mentions that it was not known when Agricola ruled the island.
When England had been under Roman rule for 400 years, the vine was extensively cultivated. Vineyards are mentioned in the earliest Saxon charters, as well as gardens and orchards, and in the British Museum there are some pictures in a Saxon calendar, where, for February, men are cutting or pruning vines.
In the Doomsday Book, vineyards are noticed in several counties. One writer, living in the first half of the 12th century, says that the culture of the vine had arrived at such perfection within the vote of Gloucester, that a sweet and palatable wine, "little inferior to that of France," was made there in abundance.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, almost every large castle and monastery in England had its vineyard. The land on the south side of Windsor Castle, now a pleasant and green lawn, running from the town under the castle - wall, was a vineyard. At this period, wine was made in England in large quantities; at the same time the importation of foreign wines was very large. The English vineyards were probably continued till the time of the Reformation, when the ecclesiastical gardens were either neglected or destroyed; and about this time, ale, which had been known in England for many centuries, seems to have superseded the use of wine as a general beverage.
We understand that of the southern coast of Devon, possessing the mildest temperatures of the English counties, there are still two or three vineyards, where wine is commonly made. A vineyard at the Castle of Arundel, on the the south coast of Sussex, was planted about the early part of the last century, and of the produce there are reported to have been 60 pipes of wine in the cellars of the Duke of Norfolk, in 1763. The wine is said to have resembled Burgundy; but the kind of grape and the mode of culture have not been recorded.
However, we know that the grapes must have been ripened by the natural temperature of the time, because artificial heat was not used for ripen in grapes until the early 1700s; and then the heat was applied merely to the other side of the wall on which the vines were trained. Not until the 1750s do we have any mention of vines being covered with glass.
Professor Martyn is an advocate for the renewal of grape culture in this country for wine. He recommends that the vines should be trained very near the ground, since he found by this method that the berries were of much increased in size and also ripened sooner. The same method is pursued in the northern part of France, where it is found to be successful.
This article was paraphrased from "Vegetable substances used in the Arts and in the Domestic Economy" printed by William Clowes, London, 1829.
Nigel Deacon, Diversity website.
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