by Sarah Butler, The Guardian, December 9, 2015
Taittinger is to become the first French champagne house to produce fizz in the UK after investing in a former Kent apple orchard.
The company has teamed up with British wine agents Hatch Mansfield and private investors to buy 69 hectares of farmland near Chilham and expects to fill its first bottles in five years.
In a £4m investment plan, the first 40 hectares at Selling Court farm will be planted with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes in 2017 to produce English sparkling wine – only fizz produced in the Champagne region of France can carry the title.
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, president of Champagne Taittinger, said: “We believe we can produce a high quality English sparkling wine drawing upon on our 80 years of winemaking expertise. 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.”
The UK is Taittinger’s biggest export market, accounting for a quarter of its sales outside France, and Taittinger said the company wanted to “create something special to show our appreciation of the UK support for champagne”.
The new wine will be named Domaine Évremond, after Charles de Saint-Évremond, who is credited with helping introduce 17th-century London to the habit of quaffing champagne.
The French soldier and writer fled to England after falling out of favour with the court of King Louis XIV. A noted gourmet and wit, he became one the most famous Frenchmen in the capital, not least as an importer of champagne.
He promoted a still version of the wine, which helped make him such a hit with Charles II that he was rewarded with the lucrative position of governor of the Duck Islands, a group of islets in St James’s Park. Évremond remained in London until he died, aged 90, and was buried in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Chilham in Kent, where Taittinger is opening a sparkling wine vineyard Chilham in Kent, where Taittinger is opening a sparkling wine vineyard
Taittinger said the chalky soil and south-facing slopes in Kent created the ideal terroir – soil, microclimate and topography – to plant and grow high-quality grapes for sparkling wine.
The British land gives the French company an opportunity to expand, which is difficult in its home town of Rheims, where land for new vineyards is almost impossible to find and would cost more than £1.5m a hectare to plant compared with between £60,000 and £70,000 in Kent.
Taittinger’s investment comes amid a boom in English sparkling wine production. Champagne producers have been rumoured to have an interest in investing in the UK for some time, as the rising popularity of homegrown fizz threatens to eat into their market.
Burgeoning demand for brands such as Nyetimber, Chapel Down, Camel Valley and Ridgeview is turning parts of the South Downs and beyond into an English Épernay after a doubling of the amount of land devoted to vineyards in the past seven years and a 43% rise in wine production last year.
Chapel Down raised £4m via a crowdfunding exercise last year to back expansion into a further 326 acres of vineyard in Kent over five years.
Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which represents the UK industry, said: “You cannot get a much better seal of approval than a Champagne house as renowned as Taittinger recognising the quality of the sparkling wine we can produce on UK soil.”
He said the British appetite for fizz was continuing to grow. But champagne was losing out to other sparkling tipples – including prosecco and cava as well as English wines.
Sales of all sparkling wines in supermarkets and other UK retailers have increased by 27% in volume; sales of champagne have risen by just 1% Photograph: Melody Davis/Design Pics/Getty Images
Last year, Britons spent more on prosecco than on champagne for the first time. The Italian sparkling wine is winning favour as it is much cheaper than its French rival.
In the past year, sales of all sparkling wines in supermarkets and other retailers in the UK have increased by 27% in volume, while sales of champagne have risen by just 1%. In pubs and restaurants the contrast is even more stark: sales of sparkling wines have risen 41% in volume, while champagne sales have remained static year on year.
Pierpaolo Petrassi, head of buying for beers, wines and spirits at Waitrose, said its champagne sales had continued to rise but its growth was being outstripped by prosecco and English sparkling wine.
He said English wine was increasingly popular because its quality had improved dramatically in recent years. “It has reached a critical mass. It’s served at state banquets and has gained credibility and the press it deserves,” he said.
Petrassi said in blind tastings, English wines were often judged to be on a par, or even superior to champagnes. “It’s exciting to have something home grown that we could be proud of especially in an area that has been dominated by other countries for many many years,” he said.
Patrick McGrath of Hatch Mansfield said the joint venture with Taittinger would give the agent – which currently trades only in imported sparkling wines – and the Champagne brand a foothold in the fast-growing market for English fizz. “We passionately believe in the future of English sparkling wine,” he said. “It is a market we feel we need to be in and an industry which is growing quickly.”
Petrassi said the investment by a globally recognised brand such as Taittinger would lend credibility to the English wine industry. “It creates a bridge between champagne and here,” he said. “What the industry has sought to do here is not just say it is a viable alternative to champagne but made sure people realise it is high quality and has a character of its own.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Sarah Butler from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.