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Balfour-Lynn calls for English wine to maintain exclusivity

Richard Balfour-Lynn, owner of Hush Heath vineyard in Kent, has urged English winemakers to maintain their exclusivity in order to succeed on the international market.

Speaking at the unveiling of his new winery near Marden in Kent on Monday, Balfour-Lynn, who owns the Hotel du Vin and Malmaison hotel chains, told the drinks business: “There’s a huge opportunity for English sparkling wine to compete with the best Champagne in the world, but it has to maintain its exclusivity and price point. If either drop then the quality may go down. A lot of people are jumping on the English wine bandwagon, which is worrying.

“Kent and Sussex in particular have a chance to produce sparkling wines to rival the best in France. The English can be as good as anyone in the world at making wine, but it will take time and investment.”

Balfour-Lynn has just struck a deal with British Airways to serve the 2007 vintage of his award-winning Balfour Brut Rosé in the airline’s first class cabins and lounges.

“It’s a triumph to be taken on by a national carrier and for so many international clients to have the opportunity to try an English product,” he said.

He admitted that English sparkling still has a way to go before it is as good as Champagne, but thinks there is an opportunity for it to compete in the mid-tier.

“A lot of mid-priced Champagne has suffered and it’s in this area that English sparkling can compete. Having Champagne on sale for £5 at Woolworths a couple of years ago was really damaging to the brand.”

Prior to the new winery, housed in an old cow shed, Balfour Brut was made and bottled at neighbouring Chapel Down. In his “ruthlessly uncompromising” quest to be the best, Balfour-Lynn has taken on Chapel Down’s former winemaker Owen Elias as consultant winemaker at Hush Heath.

The entrepreneur has ambitious expansion plans for the estate, which currently has 30 acres under vine. He wants to take production up from 30,000 to 100,000 bottles a year, and is releasing his first still wine, Nannette’s English Rosé – a second pressing of the three Champagne grapes, onto the market this year through Bibendum, with an unoaked Chardonnay to follow later in the year.

To see the full video interview with Richard Balfour-Lynn, click here

Lucy Shaw, 15.06.2011

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