UK Sparkling Wine Gains Global Recognition Amid Industry Boom

UK Sparkling Wine Gains Global Recognition Amid Industry Boom

The English wine industry is experiencing a remarkable transformation, driven by increased investment, expanding vineyards, and a growing list of international awards.

This flourishing sector is captivating high-net-worth investors and making significant strides in the global market.

According to WineGB, the industry association, the number of hectares under vine has more than doubled over the past decade to approximately 4,000, while the number of wineries has increased by more than 50% to just over 200. Similarly, the number of vineyards has doubled to around 950.

The industry’s quality is also being recognised with numerous awards. Chapel Down Group alone secured 28 accolades in 2023, including gold medals in the International Wine Challenge, Decanter World Wine, and WineGB awards.

Andrew Carter, the 55-year-old chief executive of Chapel Down, remarked, “The English wine industry is enjoying the fruits of its extraordinary terroir, favourable climate, and sustained investment to create a new, internationally acclaimed wine region.” Chapel Down, already the largest producer, is planning significant expansion and recently announced a review to raise funds for further growth.

The company has attracted prominent investors, with Nigel Wray holding nearly 14% and Lord Spencer of Alresford owning 26.4%. Another notable investor, Lord Ashcroft, holds a 66% stake in Gusbourne, which has been increasing its export efforts. Gusbourne now exports to 35 markets, including Scandinavia, Japan, and the United States, contributing 21% to its total net revenue. “Opportunities in China continue to be interesting,” noted Jonathan White, Gusbourne’s chief executive, though he emphasised caution due to market complexities.

Gusbourne, established in 2004, produces both red and sparkling wines, with its sparkling wines priced between £45 and £195 for the exclusive Fifty One Degrees North label. The company has 93 hectares of mature vineyards in Kent and West Sussex, with plans to plant an additional 55 hectares in Kent.

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The industry’s growth is not confined to traditional regions like Kent, West and East Sussex, and Surrey. It is expanding to Hampshire, Essex, Cornwall, and even Scotland. Vineyard Magazine notes that modern vine planting in England began about 80 years ago in Hambledon, Hampshire, and more serious planting of chardonnay, meunier, and pinot noir started only 50 years ago.

Land prices are a significant challenge, with prime vineyard land in Kent costing over £10,000 per acre, and Nyetimber reportedly paying £16,000 per acre. Between 2018 and 2022, nearly £500 million was invested in land, with the best vineyards fetching three times the average price of arable land. Jackson Family Wines, a Californian group, recently acquired 64 acres in Essex’s Crouch Valley, although the price paid remains undisclosed.

Chapel Down’s ambitious expansion plans, estimated between £25 million and £30 million, aim to fund a new winery near Canterbury, new vineyard planting, and development at its Tenterden base. While an AIM listing was considered for fundraising, a company sale is also on the table, sparking industry speculation about potential overseas interest.

Significant foreign investments include Taittinger’s new winery in Kent, Henkell Freixenet’s acquisition of Bolney Wine Estate in West Sussex, and Jackson Family Wines’ venture in Essex. Last year, Berry Bros & Rudd and Symington Family Estates jointly acquired Hambledon Vineyard for £22.3 million, seeing it as a strategic diversification opportunity.

Andrew Carter predicts further consolidation within the English wine industry, which currently has only 3% foreign ownership. However, one winemaker cautioned about valuation challenges due to limited market evidence.

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Balfour Winery on the Hush Heath Estate, managed by Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn, expects to produce 900,000 bottles this year, with 10% destined for export. Richard Balfour-Lynn, reflecting on his past financial losses in property, warned about the rapid growth in the wine industry: “The question one should ask them is: ‘Who are you going to sell to, and what product are you going to sell?’”

The English wine industry, particularly its sparkling wine segment, continues to thrive, attracting investment and international recognition, promising a bright future ahead.

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