Champagne house Taittinger buys Kent apple orchard

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Patrick McGrath Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (left) and Patrick McGrath of Hatch Mansfield have teamed up at Stone Stile Farm

A Champagne producer has become the first to invest in the UK sparkling wine industry after buying a former apple orchard in Kent.

Taittinger has teamed up with British wine agent Hatch Mansfield and private investors to buy 69 hectares of farmland near Chilham.

Stone Stile Farm has chalk soil and south-facing slopes up to 80 metres above sea level.

It is said to be ideal for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines.

The wine, which will be ready to bottle in five years, will be named Domaine Evremond after Charles de Saint-Evremond, a 17th century ambassador for Champagne who is said to have helped popularise it in England.

English sparkling wine cannot be called Champagne because the name is protected under EU law for wines harvested and produced in the Champagne region of France.

But British vineyards such as Nyetimber in West Sussex, Chapel Down in Kent and Denbies in Surrey produce award-winning wines on chalky soil similar to that found in the Champagne region.

Wine-making in England

  • Vineyards are mostly situated in Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Surrey, Kent, and Sussex which have approximately 908 hectares.
  • There are a further 221 hectares in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
  • The main vines grown in the UK are the sparkling wine varieties, mainly Chardonnay (approximately 347 hectares) and Pinot Noir.
  • Wine-making was brought to Britain by the Romans about 2,000 years ago.
  • By the time of Henry VIII there were 139 sizeable vineyards in England and Wales.
  • Vineyards reduced over next few centuries, partly due to climate changes.
  • In 1952 the first commercial vineyard was planted since 1875, in Hampshire.

"We believe we can produce a high quality English sparkling wine, drawing on our 80 years of wine-making expertise," said Taittinger president Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger.

"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.

"Our family has already had considerable success planting sparkling wine vineyards in the USA in 1987.

"We hope to replicate this success in the UK."

M Taittinger's father, Jean, twinned Canterbury with Reims when he was mayor of the French city more than 45 years ago.

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