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Ditching the French! Sales of Kent sparkling wine soar as Britons ditch Champagne

NewsDitching the French! Sales of Kent sparkling wine soar as Britons ditch Champagne

The Chapel Down winery saw record revenue last year as Britons developed a taste for sparkling wines produced at its vineyard in Kent. The company sold 1.5 million bottles of wine and spirits in 2021, with sales of sparkling wine up 39 per cent on the previous year.

The company, which has 780 acres of vineyards in south east England, saw its total revenue increase to £16.9 million from £15.6 million in 2020.

Chapel Down’s chief executive said that “English wine is thriving”, despite fears that the Brexit fallout and challenging harvests could damage the industry.

Andrew Carter told the Financial Times that people were “very proud” to drink homegrown sparkling wines produced at the company’s vineyards.

He said that “consumers who drink Champagne” were a major source of Chapel Down’s volume growth as increasing numbers of Britons acquired a taste for sparkling wine instead of French Champagne.

The winery owns vineyards in Tenterden, Kent, and said it expected to maintain its growth rate of its sparkling wines despite suffering one of the most challenging harvests of recent times in 2021.

Sales of sparkling wine rose last year, with Britons drinking 151 million bottles totalling nearly £1.4 billion, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. This compared to 17 million bottles of Champagne worth £610 million.

The drink’s rise in popularity over the past few years has been linked to a number of factors, including consumers discovering new drinks to enjoy at home during the Covid-19 lockdowns, while bars and restaurants remained shut.

Analysts also suggested there could be an element of patriotism in Britons choosing to buy locally-produced alternatives, with sales of English sparkling wine spiking during the European Football Championships last year, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

Chapel Down’s former chief executive raised concerns that Britain’s exit from the European Union would be damaging for the UK’s wine industry.

Frazer Thompson warned restrictions on the movement of people would take a toll on the English wine industry, which relies on seasonal labour for grape picking.

However, although the company said that the “Brexit fallout” was making it harder to access “foreign workers for our viticulture”, it added that its scale allowed it to still attract enough people.

It had been lossmaking for the previous two years, largely due to its subdivision Curious Drinks, which it put into administration and sold to former Patisserie Valerie chair Luke Johnson.

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Adverse weather conditions last year had cut industry grape yields by about 30 percent and Chapel Down’s own yield by 23 percent, bearing a blow to the company’s 2022 stock levels.

However, Mr Carter said the company had “worked hard to build stocks of our sparkling wine over the last four years” and planned to plant 150 acres of vineyards this year and next, increasing its vineyards to 900 acres.

The company supplied English sparkling wine for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011. 

Chapel Down served Brut Rose, made from its pinot noir grapes, to 650 guests at the royal couple’s Buckingham Palace reception.

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