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English sparkling producers flattered by French interest

Published:  23 July, 2008

Flattered' was the response to the news that a Champagne house may be just weeks away planting roots in English soil.

Last week, Harpers reported that Duval-Leroy was discussing a joint venture with wine writer Steven Spurrier to develop his wife's Bride Valley farm in Dorset for English sparkling wine production. If analysis of soil samples is favourable, planting could begin in April, with a first crop harvested in 2009 and the first cuve released in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

Established sparkling wine producers in England said their counterparts in Champagne were welcome to try their luck here.

I'm flattered! At last they're starting to see the light,' said Chris Varley, general manager of Nyetimber Vineyard in West Sussex. Slowly but surely, the French are realising we can make great wine too. It proves a point we've been making for years.'

Julia Trustram Eve, marketing director of English Wine Producers, said such a joint venture would mark a new chapter in English sparkling wine history. It's very positive. It really shows the leaps and bounds that our producers have made to have top-quality Champagne houses wanting to invest here.'

Mike Roberts, owner-winemaker of Ridgeview Estate in East Sussex, said it been on the cards: The Champenois have invested in California, Australia, New Zealand and Spain, so why not England?' he said. Someone was always going to do it. It was just who was going to be first.' He said he would not be surprised if another Champagne house had already secured a joint venture, but was remaining anonymous until the release of a first vintage.

Sam Lindo, vineyard director at Camel Valley in Cornwall, said the French may have had 150 years' experience making sparkling wine in Champagne, but that didn't mean they could make it in England. We'll help them out if they need it,' he joked. It's a compliment that the French are taking us seriously. But they are not the threat to English fizz. It's the producers who sell out to big companies and enter into the under 5 bracket. Small producers can't make quality sparkling wine for that.'

David Carr-Taylor, owner of Carr-Taylor Wines in Hastings, said he would not object to any venture that led to the positive expansion of the industry. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we're not interested in competing with Champagne. We've chosen to make English sparkling wine on English soil.'