The south of England is home to a burgeoning wine industry with over 500 vineyards currently in production and an annual production in excess of five million bottles. The South Downs are particularly suitable for growing vines, due to the chalky soils and climate which are similar to those found in the Champagne region of France. So it’s no surprise that the big Champagne houses are looking to invest in England.
“The changing climate is pushing the best region for making sparkling wine northwards into England”, says Simon Woodhead of Stopham Wine Estate. “It is therefore no surprise that Champagne houses are buying and planting land here in southern England. It supports and validates our growing and how successful the English wine industry is becoming.”
Taittinger planted their first imported vines in Kent last year, and Vranken Pommery have recently purchased 40 hectares in Hampshire with planting due to start in the Spring. Both will be focussing on the core Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The drive to participate in the English Sparkling Wine market came from Paul-Francois Vranken, who leads the family controlled group Vranken Pommery Monopole. He recognises that, compared to Champagne the scale is small but the quality is excellent and believes “it is important that we are not absent from this market – it is an adventure”.
UK Wine Producers is the name of the national wine industry’s marketing board and marketing director Julia Trustram Eve believes the interest of French Champagne houses is a strong endorsement of the quality that is coming out of England.
“Champagne epitomises the highest quality, premium products”, she said. “To have Champagne houses investing in the UK wine industry illustrates just what confidence there is in our exciting wine industry and its future”.
But feeling across the English wine industry is mixed.
“It is flattering that Champagne producers with their experience and heritage can see the potential of our climate and soils as ideal for sparkling wine production”, said Mardi Roberts of Ridgeview Wine Estate. “The fact that over a million additional vines will be planted in England this year is exciting for our industry growth but also reinforces Ridgeview’s belief that we should look to export markets as well as domestic sales for a sustainable future”.
Whilst agreeing that French growers planting in England is a generally positive endorsement, Alison Nightingale of Albourne Estate is also concerned about the potential negatives.
“Its more serious competition in the market, and could put pressure on prices”, she said. “In fact, this may be the very reason they are doing it. By creating a greater supply of English Sparkling Wine it will put pressure on UK producers to sell cheaper and so, by default, protect the high prices of Champagne and build the perception that sparkling wine produced here is ‘cheaper’ than ‘champagne’ and not of such esteemed status”.
Find out more about the English wine industry at www.englishwineproducers.co.uk