UK supermarket chain Waitrose is to plant vines to make its own sparkling wine, the retailer has announced.
The company hopes to begin planting vines on its 1,600ha farm in Hampshire in Southern England this year. The farm already produces dairy, eggs, chickens, flour and a variety of fruit and fruit juices.
Wine consultant Stephen Skelton MW will oversee the vineyard project, which will comprise four to five hectares of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The first UK supermarket to plant its own vines, Waitrose has identified land – which consists of chalk hills and clay loam on either side of the River Test – as appropriate for growing grapes, due to favourable exposure and similarity to that of the winemaking regions of Chablis and Champagne.
Waitrose currently carries 28 local wines from producers including Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Chapel Down, Camel Valley and Denbies.
The retailer reported a 90% increase in sales of English wine in 2007, and even after doubling its range, says there isn’t sufficient quantity to meet demand.
The UK currently has 300 vineyards and produces 3.3m bottles, but both planting and production are set to increase in coming years to an exemption from the EU vine planting ban.
Land in southern England, especially Sussex, Dorset and Hampshire, is considered ideal for growing grapes for sparkling wine. French producers including Duval Leroy and Boisset are known to be – or to have been – actively looking for vineland in the region.
Other producers as diverse as Chateau Pape Clement proprietor Bernard Magrez, and Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz, have expressed varying degrees of interest in southern England, which has the great advantage of costing a fraction of continental vineland.
Waitrose’s locally-made wine will be ready for sale in 2014.
Written by Maggie Rosen