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Champagne houses look at English vineland

Champagne houses are considering investment in English vineyards – especially those which specialise in sparkling wine, decanter.com has learned.

English wine is being taken more seriously than ever, with sparkling wines from such vineyards as Nyetimber, Chapel Down and Ridge View holding their own in blind lineups which include top Champagnes.

The best vineyards in the South of England are growing at rates of up to 40% per year. As Frazer Thompson of English Wines, which makes Chapel Down, said, ‘The only thing we’re lacking is grapes – we can’t get enough.’

English producers typically make sparkling wine from the three Champagne varieties, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Kent is only a couple of degrees latitude north of Champagne, its chalk soil is perfect for growing the high-acidity white grapes for sparkling wine, and its weather is getting warmer. Many experts reckon that at the present rate of global warming, southern England’s climate may be more conducive to growing Champagne grapes than Champagne itself.

Thompson says Champagne houses – ‘from the very big to the very small’ – are discussing investment options with vineyards in Kent.

This may be either to buy vineland or to invest in the production side.

‘Champagne houses are talking to us about cooperation. Nothing is signed yet but there is interest.’ Thompson said. Naturally, wine made from grapes grown outside Champagne can’t carry the region’s name.

Sotheby’s international head of wine, Serena Sutcliffe, does not consider the idea outlandish. ‘Nyetimber has shown what can be done here,’ she said.

‘But there are two major disincentives if they are considering making wine here – the amount of land available, which is tiny compared to America or New Zealand, and our punitive tax laws. I can’t see it working from a scale point of view.’

UK property magnate Nigel Wray has just bought a 37% share in the English Wines Group, investing £1.5m in the company, which owns vineyards in Tenterden and Lamberhurst in Kent.

Thompson points out that Champagne houses could do worse than invest in the UK, which consumes more Champagne than any other country – around 34m bottles a year.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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