Champagne Taittinger is establishing vineyards in the UK, becoming the first Champagne house to invest directly in English sparkling wine.
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Patrick McGrath MW
Taittinger is launching Domaine Evremond, a winery within a 69 hectare plot in Kent near Canterbury that will be used to produce a range of new “premium” English sparkling wines.
Around 35-40 hectares will be planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Some 20,000 to 25,000 cases are expected to be initially produced.
“We have dreamt for a number of years of working with our dear friends in the UK to create a special Franco/British project,” said Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, president of the Champagne house. “We are very excited that this dream is now becoming a reality.”
The purchased land is a former orchard near Chilham in Kent, close to Canterbury and Faversham.
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier vines will be planted to produce English sparkling wine, although the exact planting figures are not yet known.
The plots have an “ideal terroir” for producing sparkling wine, sitting at a maximum of 80 metres above sea level with chalk soil and south-facing slopes, Taittinger said.
No wine will be produced until the land is fully transformed from orchards into vineyards, with no definite time-scale so far in place.
It is estimated that planting will begin in May 2017, although it could start as quickly as May of next year. However, the first wines will likely not be seen on the market until the mid to late 2020s.
Taittinger has insisted that the English sparkling wine it will produce should not be directly compared to Champagne.
“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,” he said.
Champagne houses have been rumoured to be searching for plots in the south of England for some time as they seek to capitalise on its increasingly similar growing conditions with the famous French region.
Land prices are considerably cheaper in the UK than in Champagne, with an unplanted hectare in Kent costing £10,000 to £15,000 and rising when under vine. A top Champagne vineyard can cost between €1-2 million per hectare.
Furthermore, with sales of English sparkling wine expected to continue rising, the likelihood of further investment from Champagne is increasing.
Taittinger has not revealed the exact financial details of its investment in Domaine Evremond, named after Charles de Saint-Evremond, a 17th century poet and courtier to King Charles II who is buried at Westminster Cathedral.
UK distributor Hatch Mansfield is a joint partner in the venture, along with a number of unnamed private investors.
Patrick McGrath MW, managing director of Hatch Mansfield, expressed his belief in English sparkling wine, saying: “Our aim is not just to be an English sparkling winemaker, but also to be a significant supporter of the whole English wine industry.”
English vineyards are forecast to double in capacity and production over the next seven years, according to trade group English Wine Producers.
The prediction was revealed in September as politicians toured one of the UK’s biggest wine producers, Rathfinny Wine Estate, where they also heard about the Sussex winery’s application to the EU to have the county fully recognised as a wine appellation.
Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director of English Wine Producers told the drinks business she thought the news from Taittinger, “shows the seriousness and high regard English sparkling wine is held in.”
She added it was yet further proof that there was an “exciting future” for English fizz and that it was a “new chapter” in its story.
The rising quality of English wine is being continually praised. A blind tasting in October saw two wines from English producers Nyetimber and Hambledon coming top in a contest featuring sparklers from Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger and Taittinger.
Additional reporting by Rupert Millar