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Champagne Taittinger to make English sparkling wine with UK vineyard deal

Taittinger has become the first Champagne house to invest in English sparkling wine after joining with investors to buy ‘premium’ vineyard land in England.

At a Glance – Champagne Taittinger English sparkling wine deal:

  • Taittinger and partners buy 69ha of farmland in Kent. Taittinger has 55% stake in venture
  • To plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier under Domaine Evremond name
  • Multi-million pound investment over 10 years
  • Long-term plan to produce 300,000 bottles of English sparkling wine annually

Champagne Taittinger said today (9 December) that it has bought 69 hectares of farmland in Kent, southern England, in a venture with other investors in what it termed a ‘Franco-British alliance’.

It intends to plant vines in order to make English sparkling wine under the name Domaine Evremond as part of a ‘multi-million pound investment’ over the next 10 years.

A first for English wine

It is believed to be the first time a Champagne house has invested in vineyard land in the English wine industry, which has seen rapid growth in the past decade.

Speculation of Champagne house interest has swirled for years, with several commentators pointing out similarities between both the climate and soils of southern England and Champagne.

‘Dream come true,’ says Taittinger president

‘We have dreamt for a number of years of working with our dear friends in the UK,’ said Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger, president of his namesake Champagne house.

Classic Champagne grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier will be planted on the newly acquired land at Stone Stile Farm, a former apple orchard near to Chilham, and close to Canterbury and Faversham. The land was previously owned by the Gaskain family, who still own the farm itself.

‘Our aim is to make something of real excellence in the UK’s increasingly temperate climate, and not to compare it with Champagne or any other sparkling wine,’ said Pierre Emmanuel.

The deal

Taittinger, which owns 288ha of vineyards in Champagne, is working on the project with its UK agent, Hatch Mansfield, and other unnamed private investors.

Financial details were not disclosed, but Taittinger has a 55% stake in the venture.

The Taittinger-led consortium expects to produce its first ‘fruit for winemaking’ in 2020, but ‘we are looking at around eight years before our first Domaine wine is produced’. After that, it ‘ultimately’ aims to produce 300,000 bottles of English sparkling wine annually.

English wine expert Stephen Skelton MW is a consultant on the project.

Patrick McGrath MW, MD of Hatch Mansfield, said, ‘As a team, we have a real belief in the potential of English sparkling wine. Our aim is not just to be an English sparkling winemaker, but also to be a significant supporter of the whole English wine industry.’

Land Prices: England versus Champagne

A single hectare of vineyard land in England costs around £25,000 on average, albeit it depends on the specific site, according to an estimate by trade body English Wine Producers given to Decanter.com.

That is significantly cheaper than vineyard prices in Champagne, which were €1.2m (£870,000) per hectare on average in 2014, according to France’s ‘Safer’ land agency.

Why Kent?

Forty hectares of the acquired land at Stone Stile Farm have the ‘ideal terroir [and] soil to plant high quality vines’, the Taittinger-led consortium said.

Planting will be on south facing slopes at a maximum height of 80 metres above sea level, the group said. It added that Kent is already proven as an excellent area to grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Plus, Canterbury in Kent provides an emotional connection by being twinned with Reims in Champagne. Jean Taittinger formed that relationship between the two cities while mayor of Reims around 45 years ago.

‘The increasing suitability of the climate in the UK has been a contributing factor,’ Taittinger added.

Why Domaine Evremond?

Domaine Evremond takes its name from Charles de Saint-Evremond, a French poet and literary critic living between 1614 and 1703.

He is considered to have increased the popularity of Champagne in England during the court of Charles II. He is buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Taittinger in the US

Pierre Emmanuel said Taittinger was no stranger to investing beyond Champagne’s boundaries.

‘Our family has already had considerable success planting sparkling wine vineyards in the US in 1987, when we launched Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, our venture with the Kopf family of Kobrand Wine & Spirits,’ he said.

See also:

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