A flurry of vineyard plantings in the UK means that wine production could rise from around 200,000 bottles to as much as 2m bottles by 2015, according to a leading industry expert.

Securing enough demand for wine set to be ready in five years is one of the biggest challenges facing the UK wine industry, according to Stephen Skelton MW, author of the UK Vineyards Guide.

Speaking to just-drinks today (18 June), Skelton said: "By 2015 I estimate that the amount available for sale on the high street (this excludes farm-gate and direct sales) will have expanded from today's perhaps 200,000 bottles to nearer 2m bottles. This will be the real test of viability."

Vineyard plantings in the UK rose by 45% between between 2004 and 2008, to more than 1,100 hectares, according to Government figures released this week and published by trade body English Wine Producers.

Most planting has been for traditional "Champagne" grape varieties chardonnay and pinot noir, due to the dominance of sparkling wine in the UK's fledgling wine industry. These two grape varieties account for more than a third of total plantings.

Skelton said: "The real test is whether the huge increase in production, that must come from the vast number of new vineyards planted, can all be sold at prices that reflect the cost of production."

Some believe UK producers may find new outlets for their wines, however.

After years of importing wines from all over the world, be it France's Bordeaux or Australia's Hunter Valley, the UK has potential as a wine exporter, according to market research group Mintel.

"The undoubted improvement in the quality of English wine in recent years, combined with the weakness of Sterling against the Euro, means there is an opportunity for English wine producers looking to penetrate the European market," said Jonny Forsyth, senior drinks analyst at Mintel.

"The difficulty will be in breaking down existing perceptions of lower quality," he said.

Currently, many producers in the UK are more immediately concerned with the weather in the build-up to this year's harvest.

Skelton said: "The last two years have not been good for UK winegrowers with low yields and some unripe grapes. If this summer is a good one and the trend of warmer summers with more days over 30 degrees Celsius, then this will be a positive influence." 

UK retailer Waitrose, part of the John Lewis Partnership and which has this year planted its own vineyard of 4ha, told just-drinks this week that sales of UK wine rose by 18% at its stores in 2008.