Chapel Down proves it's a match for the French as the Kent winemaker reveals a 34% increase in sales for 2015

Mark Shapland For This Is Money

Kent sparkling winemaker Chapel Down continues to show that English vineyards are catching up with established French producers as it today revealed a 34 per cent rise in revenues for 2015.

Sales at the winemaker rose to £8.18million for the year, after more restaurants, supermarkets and off licences stocked its wine, beer and cider. Wine sales were up by 27 per cent, while beer and cider turnover grew 50 per cent. 

Chapel’s results were announced in the same week that English sparkling wine was pronounced better than French Champagne by an elite group of Parisian experts. 

Growing: Chapel Down, based in Tenterden, supplies upmarket venues such as the Royal Opera House, as well as retailer Majestic Wines - it also opens its winery to up to 50,000 tourists a year

Growing: Chapel Down, based in Tenterden, supplies upmarket venues such as the Royal Opera House, as well as retailer Majestic Wines – it also opens its winery to up to 50,000 tourists a year

Chapel Down chief executive Frazer Thompson said: ‘Demand is continuing to rise and we are developing a very strong brand to ensure we continue to maximise the potential that is being created.’ 

He added: ‘These results, coupled with the news that came out this week about the tastings in Paris where English Sparkling beat Champagne, shows that we are taking huge strides.’  

The firm also used the results to wade into the European brexit debate. Chapel Down wants to see the UK remain in Europe, saying it would be affected if access to workers from the Continent was cut off.

UK vineyards rely on cheap labour from the Continent to harvest, prepare and pick the vines and grapes. 

The company said: ‘We would be affected, like all agriculturally based businesses, if we were not able to access EU workers for our viticulture and the expertise in winemaking available in Europe.’

During the year, Chapel Down also invested £1.32million in planting 90 acres of new vineyards and purchasing new equipment, and hailed its ‘second best ever harvest’.

But it failed to turn a profit, as losses widened to £279,000, from £83,000 in the previous year – its second year in a row of losses. 

Earlier this month Chapel Down raised almost £1.5million from small investors to build its own brewery for its Curious Drinks beer and cider business.

England’s increasingly warm climate and its chalk soils are ideal for producing bubbly

England’s increasingly warm climate and its chalk soils are ideal for producing bubbly

The company said it had raised the money from a crowdfunding campaign in which investors gave as little as £100 each in return for shares in the business and various other benefits. 

The company already makes cider at the Chapel Down winery, but its lager, IPA and porter beers are brewed for it by Everards, the independent Leicester-based brewer. 

It will now build its own brewery and a visitor centre at Ashford, about 12 miles from the winery, to bring brewing in-house and expand production.

Today’s results top off a good week for English winemakers.  

On Wednesday A team from Britain’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association travelled across the Channel and invited some of the biggest names in the Gallic restaurant and bar trade to a blind tasting. 

Nine out of 14 judges thought Nyetimber sparkling wine, produced in West Sussex was better than a £65 bottle of champagne. 

English sparkling Ridgeview Bloomsbury was also well received by the French judges.

In the first tasting of its kind in Paris, those taking part said the English sparkling wine was better in two out of three categories, and it drew with the Champagne in the other.

Among the successes was a £40 bottle of 2009 Nyetimber sparkling wine produced in West Sussex – nine members of the 14 member panel thought it was better than a £65 bottle of Billecart-Salmon Grand Cru Champagne.  

When a £37.99 bottle of 2011 Gusborne Rosé went up against a NV Ayala, Rosé Majeur from Champagne, nine preferred the Gusborne and five picked the Champagne.

Half the tasters thought the English wine was Champagne.

British wine expert Matthew Jukes, pictured, said: ‘I never would have believed that top French palates would take English Sparkling wine for Champagne.’ 

Nevertheless the English wine industry remains small – accounting for just one per cent of the domestic market.

TEST RESULTS: WHAT THE EXPERTS THOUGHT

THE BLENDS CATEGORY 

2009 Ridgeview, Bloomsbury, Sussex, England £28, went up against NV Jacquesson, Cuvée No. 78, Champagne, France, £38.

Asked which they preferred it was a 7/7 split. When asked which they thought was the Champagne, half the tasters thought the English sparkling was the Champagne.

CHARDONNAY BASED FIZZ 

2009 Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs, England £40 pitched against NV Billecart-Salmon, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, France £65

Asked which they preferred, nine said Nyetimber and five the Champagne. Thirteen thought the Nyetimber was the Champagne and only one got it right.

ROSÉS 

2011 Gusborne, Rose, England £37.99 Going up against NV Ayala, Rosé Majeur, Champagne, France £35

Asked which they preferred, nine preferred the Gusborne and five picked the Champagne. Half the tasters thought the English was Champagne and the other half got it right. 

This is the first time that UK sparkling wine has ever won a blind test in Paris.

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