Unmade Kent wine hits retail radar

07 July, 2016

The Simpsons Wine Estate has already had interest from retailers looking to pre-stock their yet-to-be produced English sparkling wine.

The Kent-based winery is preparing for its first harvest this October; it is hoping to produce 15,000 bottles this year from its first planting, and then its annual production can increase in the future to around 50,000 bottles for each of the three sites.

“Our goal is to produce up to 250,000 bottles per year when we are up and running,” explained co-owner Charles Simpson. “We want to be a different voice in the marketplace.”

Charles and Ruth Simpson also own the Domaine Sainte Rose in France, which they established 14 years ago. They set up their UK business in 2014.

Domaine Saint Rose wines are stocked by Majestic and Waitrose Cellar; meanwhile the Simpsons have already had discussions with retailers who are showing interest in pre-stocking their yet-to-be-produced English sparkling wines.

Charles Simpson said they are very happy with the sites they have chosen to produce their English wines. He added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see more big name Champagne producers in the UK, following this year’s announcements by Champagne Pommery and Taittinger.

“I think they will be the first of many. We had these announcements from last December and then May this year; it’s two in six months. It’s great news as it is a huge endorsement for English sparkling wine.

“But it’s a land grab and this is going to be the limiting factor. In Kent land was selling for about £10,000 per acre but now farmers are charging a premium for viticulture land, and it’s gone up sometimes to £14,000 per acre.”

In the Champagne region this can be up to £400,000 per acre.

“Land is very expensive in the Champagne region and this is partly why they have narrower row widths and double the vines for the same area that we do, although there are controls there for the yield per vine.

“The North Downs was previously seen as being a bit too far east for English wine production but now it’s definitely got a higher profile. People are saying that the area now is similar to where Champagne was 90 years ago, in terms of the conditions. Our nearest vineyards are all getting more recognition; our nearest are Chapel Down, Hush Heath and Gusbourne.

“One of the biggest issues in the UK is site selection but we think we have two very good blocks. When others suffered with frost problems earlier this year we were fine here. We are very near to Canterbury, Dover and Sandwich and so we have a temperate climate. We bought ten years’ worth of satellite data to check the weather conditions and this highlighted only two years that had a risk of frost.

“If you can get your site right you are 90% there. It’s all about the location now. We are southeast facing, which is good. We have decent slopes and cold air drainage. You need all the environmental dimensions in your favour and your site needs space for industrial units; when you factor all of this in there aren’t that many sites.” 

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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