Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger planted vines at the brand’s new Kent vineyard this week, marking the first time a major French Champagne House has forayed into UK real estate.
Taittinger and UK wine importer and wholesaler Hatch Mansfield announced their joint vineyard venture in 2015. They plan to cultivate 40 hectares (98 acres) with the first bottles released in 2023 after a three-year bottle-aging process.
They chose the Stone Stile Farm site in Kent over Sussex and Hampshire for the property’s south-facing slopes and strong soil profile. At the time, newspapers estimated the cost at £4 million ($6.04 million).
The vineyard, named Domaine Evremond after the 17th-century French exile at English Court, will use traditional grapes rather than the hardier German varieties sometimes seen in English sparkling wines.
More than 100,000 vines will be planted this year, breaking down into 15.2 percent Pinot Meunier, 48.2 percent Pinot Noir and 36.6 percent Chardonnay. The use of these typical Champagne clones indicates a confidence in the success of a cool-to-intermediate grapevine climate grouping.
Kent Acreage Cheaper Than Champagne’s
The “combination of chalk soils, climate and topography of our site in Kent are ideal,” Taittinger said. The UK is Taittinger’s number one export market, making a partnership with Hatch Mansfield a natural fit. They have hired viticulture expert Stephen Skelton as a consultant to help convert the Kent fruit orchard. “This is a ‘family’ venture between friends,” he said.
While Taittinger has previously planted abroad, evidenced by the success of their Napa Valley Domaine Carneros venture, this is the first time a major French House has invested in UK vineyards, where land costs are lower. In Kent, an acre of land is $12,935 (£10,000), while in Champagne it is $388,050 (£300,000).
The English winemaking industry is fairly small, with around 4,942 acres (2,000 hectares) in comparison with France, which had 1.95 million acres under vine in 2015.
1 Million Vines And Growing
The market for UK wine is rapidly growing. Acreage has almost tripled since 2000, with 1 million vines to be planted this year alone.
Indeed, while most of the media were covering the Taittinger-Hatch Mansfield joint venture not too far away, Simpsons Wine Estate in Barham started the final phase of its plantings that it began in 2014, according to KentOnline, the local online newspaper. It will add 40,000 Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines across 25 acres over the next two days.
“The inspiring thing is we will be living with these vines for the next 40 or 50 years,” said co-owner Charles Simpson, who runs the winery with his wife Ruth.
(US$1.29 = £1 as of May 2017
US$1.59 = £1 as of December 2015)