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Michel Chapoutier makes surprising suggestion for potential English wine project

Top French winemaker Michel Chapoutier said he would not rule out planting vines in UK soil at a tasting in London yesterday – but his choice of grape variety and location came as a surprise to the attendees.

At the end of event, which Chapoutier hosted to launch his Séletions Parcellaires en primeur from the 2021 harvest, the winemaker was asked whether it was true that he was considering having a vineyard for making wines in England.

While he failed to admit to actually being on the search for a site at present, judging by his answer it was clear that it was something he had thought about, and his suggestion was not what anyone in the room was expecting.

Chapoutier, who is a Champagne lover, and was sipping Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne 2011 as he responded to the question, did not express a desire to make English fizz from the chalky slopes of Sussex or Hampshire with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – like so many others – but instead proposed making a wine using a Swiss grape in an area with very few vines.

He said, “If I were in England, I would go to the Scilly Islands, and I would plant Chasselas.”

Explaining his rationale, he said that he was more interested in being “a leader”, rather than “a follower” when it came to new projects, and hence his desire to do something radically different in the UK.

But he also justified his comments on the basis that in his view, the quality of wines from Chasselas in Switzerland – where this grape is almost exclusively grown – “is amazing”, adding, “and the climate corresponds perfectly with the climate of England.”

He also said that the UK could adopt the grape as its own, commenting, “If you plant enough Chasselas in Great Britain, people would not say it is the grape of Switzerland, but the grape of Great Britain, and you need your own grape.”

As for planting the variety on the Isles of Scilly, he said that this was “because of the climate, and the granite” – the islands are granite outcrops that were formed around 290 million years ago.

Chapoutier, whose greatest wines are made from the granitic slopes of the Hermitage hill in the Northern Rhône, has consistently expressed his overriding interest in this bedrock and the soils based on it.

Commenting yesterday, he said, “I love granite; of course the vine is born on limestone, but when the vine arrived on granite, it had to struggle to adapt, and that is why I love granite.”

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