Consolidation on the horizon for English sparkling wine

22nd May, 2013 by Lucy Shaw

The English sparkling wine industry will not be able to sustain its current level of growth, with one key producer predicting that consolidation is on the horizon.

Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex

Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex is one of 400 commercial wineries in England and Wales

Speaking at a seminar at the London International Wine Fair at ExCel yesterday, Frazer Thompson, chief executive of Chapel down in Kent, warned that the English sparkling wine bubble may soon be about to burst.

“We can’t sustain our current growth rate and I envisage consolidation is going to take place within the industry in the next five years.

“There will be casualties – I see quite a lot of failures on the horizon,” he said.

Thomson warned that pricing will play a critical role in English sparkling wine’s continued success.

“The idea that we’ll one day be making the same amount of fizz as Champagne and selling it at the same price as Perrier-Jouët, it’s not going to happen.

“We’ve got to get our prices right and be sensible about it. There are a large number of wineries pricing their sparklers in the £25-30 bracket, which is more expensive than the average bottle of Champagne.

Sales of Chapel Down are "booming"

Sales of Chapel Down are “booming”

“I don’t think that’s where Chapel Down is going to be in the future,” he said.

Chapel Down Brut Non Vintage is currently on sale at Waitrose for £19.99.

Despite talk of consolidation within the industry, Thompson revealed that business was booming at Chapel Down.

“These are exciting times for English sparkling wine – it took us four years to make a profit and we doubled our profits last year. We sell everything we make,” he said.

He did however warn that English producers’ tendency to try to copy the Champagne model doesn’t bode well for the future.

“I don’t understand why certain brands want to try to ape Champagne. We need to be different and to shout about what makes us different.

“English sparkling wine needs to get its branding message right, and we could learn a thing or two from the Champenois about that,” he said.

During the seminar, Jane Mohan of the West Street Vineyard in Essex warned that English sparkling wine is in danger of becoming a “me too” Champagne look-alike.

“It’s impossible for English sparkling wine to take on the Champenois with their multi million pound marketing budgets. We need to work on our collaborative branding to get consumers drinking English first and individual brands second,” she said.

Mohan urged producers not to copy the Champagne model of working with only Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, but rather experiment with different grape varieties and sweetness levels.

“We need to develop a regional style that screams English,” she said.

Thompson meanwhile, stressed that balancing out the Chapel Down business by selling beer and still wine has helped give the company less reliance on its flagship sparklers, mitigating the risk of lesser vintages such as 2012.

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