Chapel Down boss advises new producers

Producing English wine - particularly sparkling wine - is now a serious business and there is no room for amateurs.

This is the claim of Frazer Thompson, chief executive of the award-winning Chapel Down Winery in Tenterden, Kent.

Thompson, speaking at the Vines to Wines seminar at Fruit Focus on 21 July, said wine-making is comprised of three businesses - an agricultural business to grow the grapes, a manufacturing business to make the wine and a marketing and sales business to sell it.

He asked delegates: "Which one of these are you best at?" and warned new wine-makers that one of the most vital issues when starting a vineyard is to get good advice. "They should be careful who they talk to," he said, "and also watch out for poor consultants."

Thompson, who admitted that he was "a business man not a wine grower", also advised "newbies" to join the UK Vineyards Association, from which they can get free advice, and to visit and talk to Chapel Down Winery before they consider planting.

He also warned new grape producers who have recently planted vines that having a contract is vital. He added that spot prices can be wildly unpredictable, even in stable markets.

Help and advice is available from a winery with a common interest in maximising your yield and improving quality, said Thompson.

He pointed out that grape growers' average yields are three tonnes per acre, with grape price contracts ranging from £800 to £1,500 per tonne.

Set up costs are between £6,000 and £9,000 per acre and ongoing costs are about £2,000 per acre, he added.

Wine sales have now overtaken beer sales in the South East. Cool-climate wines are economically rare and fashionable. English wines are described as aromatic, zingy, fresh and clean. England and New Zealand are the only wine-producing countries growing their vineyard base and the Champagne region is also expanding.

Thompson added: "Champagne is a proven successful model, as is New Zealand. What does England have in common with them?"

Thompson considered that the UK has both geology and geography in its favour. Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Essex have a geology and climate similar to that of Champagne.

Chalk and greensand soils planted with the classic Champagne varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are what are particularly wanted by consumers.

Thompson said English wine, particularly the sparkling variety, is capable of greatness - with international gold medals having already been won by Chapel Down, Nyetimber, Ridgeview and Balfour vineyards in these areas.

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