English wine producer Chapel Down has struck a deal to lease a further 388 acres of viticultural land adjoining its existing vineyards on the North Downs, taking its total available vineyard area to 950 acres.
The new site at Boarley and Abbey Farm in Boxley will be planted between 2019 and 2021, resulting in a total area under long term leases of 788 acres. Once this site is planted, the total vineyard area from which Chapel Down will source grapes – including owned land, land under long term leases and contract supply – will exceed 950 acres.
This, it says, will make it the largest vineyard of any English wine producer, which will have the potential to produce up to a million bottles of wine a year.
To put this in context, last year the entire UK wine industry collectively produced 5.9m bottles of wine (4m of that sparkling), according to the Wine GB survey.
Supply is projected to reach 6m this year, and 8-10m bottles within the next 10 years, based on the increase in plantations over the last 3-5 years. (Currently, the UK has 2,500 hectares under vine, with around one million vines planted in 2017 alone and a further 1.7m expected to be planted in 2018).
If projections prove true, it would mean that Chapel Down could be responsible for 10% of the UK’s entire wine production.
“This is more exciting news for Chapel Down and the English sparkling wine business,” said Frazer Thompson, chief executive of the Chapel Down Group. “The Boxley site is close to our existing vineyard at Kits Coty and our other recently vined sites at Court Lodge Farm and Street Farm on the North Downs.
“We believe this area of the North Downs offers the finest terroir in England for sparkling varieties and successive excellent crops and critical acclaim for wines from our Kits Coty vineyard prove it.
“This will be the largest vineyard in England with the potential to produce up to a million bottles of sparkling wine per annum when mature.The sites will be planted over the coming years to enable us to grow our business to satisfy the increasing demand for Chapel Down wines over the next 25 years.”
Looking further ahead, trade body Wine GB anticipates that the English and Welsh wine industry has the potential to produce 40m bottles by 2040, which would make it a £1 billion business.
But with production and plantings growing at a rapid rate, will demand match supply?
Speaking to the drinks business earlier this year Thompson said he was already selling 800,000 bottles annually, of which around half is sparkling, with 97% sold domestically.
While he pointed to “growth opportunities elsewhere”, he said the UK would be key to its success. This growth of the market, he believed, would come largely (75%) at the expense of generic Champagne, priced at £25 or below, and also cheaper sparkling wines, including Prosecco.
“We started to develop the US rapidly in the past year because it is a very Anglophile market and it is receptive to new stuff, and for them [the Americans] to a get wine as good as a vintage Champagne for same price as a non-vintage grand marque is a compelling proposition,” but added: “The UK is the most important market for Champagne in the world apart from France, so getting it right in the UK is vital.”
Completion of its acquisition is expected on or around 11 October 2018.
Overview of UK producers known to have more than 100 acres of vineyard:
- Chapel Down – projected 950 acres
- Nyetimber – 438 acres, at last record
- Rathfinny Estate – projected 400 acres, once fully planted
- Denbies – 265 acres
- Champagne Taittinger – projected 171 acres at Domaine Evremond in Kent