With the English wine scene in the ascendancy, and Britain’s summers getting warmer, perhaps its no surprise that the French are harvesting a new appreciation for our soils. So which French champagne house is currently toiling away on a vineyard in the garden of England?
Words: Wayne de Nicolo
In the wake of English Wine Week in May, and the haul of awards and medals recently won in international competitions, English wines are really starting to make their mark.
So now is a good time to look at a new wine producer preparing to arrive on the English wine scene. One that’s a modern example of Entente Cordiale, and thus a happy development in an era of somewhat strained relations between the UK and France. That producer, is Domaine Evremond.
So far so mysterious. But the majority shareholder in the joint venture in Kent near Faversham is no stranger in England. It’s Taittinger. The family company is one of Champagne’s Grand Marques, selling one million bottles in the UK every year from its annual production of more than five million bottles.
For 12 months they looked at various potential sites, testing soils, but none of them had the right combination of soil and weather characteristics for the production of top quality wines.
‘It’s the first major Champagne house to become involved in the production of premium English sparkling wine’
Then, in 2015, the company found what they were looking for and bought the Faversham site comprising 69 hectares of land previously planted with apple and pear trees. The attraction to the site (valued at about £2.5m in 2017) was the similarity of the chalky soil to that in the Champagne area, the south-facing slopes and its favourable microclimate.
In May 2017 they initially planted 100,000 vines, with 40,000 more added recently. The varieties used are the three Champagne classics: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Last autumn they harvested a good, though small, first crop of grapes which were fermented and the resulting wine is being stored for blending in future years. The first full harvest is expected this autumn.
The viticulturist and winemaker who has been advising on such matters as the selection of the land, choice of vines and planting is south west London resident and Master of Wine, Stephen Skelton, a leading viticulturist who has advised on the creation of more than 50 English vineyards.
The role of the viticulturist in a project such as this is multi-faceted and includes vineyard site selection and assessment, selection of vine rootstock, vineyard layout and planting. His website, englishwine.com, gives a fascinating insight into how a new vineyard is created, or, for more detailed information on local wines and vineyards, you can pick up his recently published book, The Wines of Great Britain.
‘For sparkling wines there is usually a period of 7-8 years from the planting of new vines until the first wine is released, allowing for several years vine maturation, three years bottle ageing and the blending of different vintages’
Stephen told me that he expects that the first vintage at Evremond will be produced in 2023 or 2024. For sparkling wines there is usually a period of 7-8 years from the planting of new vines until the first wine is released, allowing for several years vine maturation, three years bottle ageing and the blending of different vintages, which will each have differing characteristics.
There are plans to build a winery on site in about two years, complete with tasting facilities. In the meantime the wines are being made by a local contract winemaker, but when the winery is built and full scale production is underway, a team of highly qualified and experienced French winemakers will take over. The aim is to produce 300,000 bottles per year once the vines have reached maturity.
Given the great care taken in choosing the right site, the level of winemaking expertise that will be employed and the Taittinger pedigree, there is every reason to expect that, for this new entrant to the English wine market, the future is sparkling!