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CHAMPAGNE

Champagne kings to make British bubbly

Famous French brand Taittinger on Wednesday announced plans to become the first Champagne house to produce premium English sparkling wine with the purchase of farmland in Kent.

Champagne kings to make British bubbly
Photo: AFP

The Reims-based firm, established in 1734, said it had teamed up with British wine company Hatch Mansfield and private investors to purchase 69 hectares (170 acres) of farmland at Stone Stile Farm in Kent, south east England.

Forty hectares of this will be planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines to produce sparkling wine, said the company.

“We have dreamt for a number of years of working with our dear friends in the UK to create a special Franco/British project,” said Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, president of Champagne Taittinger.

“We believe we can produce a high quality English sparkling wine drawing on our 80 years of winemaking expertise.

“Our aim is to make something of real excellence in the UK's increasingly temperate climate, and not to compare it with Champagne or any other sparkling wine,” he added.

The company said it had chosen the former apple farm, close to Canterbury, due to a combination of soil, climate and topography.

“The plots to be planted are a maximum of 80 metres above sea level, with chalk soil and south-facing slopes, creating an ideal 'terroir' to plant and grow high quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier vines,” it said.

The first fruit for winemaking is expected to be available in 2020 and bottled in 2021, with 300,000 bottles to be produced per year when fully operational.

Britain is second only to France in consumption of Champagne, with retailers shipping 32.7 million bottles in 2014.

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CHAMPAGNE

French champagne houses expect bumper 2021 sales

French champagne houses are looking forward to bumper sales this year, but it is feared the Covid surge in the lead-up to Christmas and New Year could dampen festive expectations

Moet et Chandon champagne being poured into a glass which stands on a tray, surrounded by other glasses
Champagne houses are hoping to raise a glass to a bumper year. Photo: Francois Nascimbeni / AFP

Champagne sales hope to raise a toast to a record year in 2021 as shops and restaurants replenish stocks after months of virus-related restrictions and as retail demand surges, an industry body said.

The outlook for the key Christmas and New Year festive season, however, is clouded by uncertainty over the recently detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Jean-Marie Barillere, co-president of the CIVC champagne industry association and president of the champagne brand group UMP, told AFP that the sector was headed for sales of 315 million bottles this year, representing turnover of €5.5 billion.

If confirmed, that would beat the current annual sales record of €5 billion, reached in 2019 before Covid struck.

The sales surge comes as severe spring frosts followed by summer rains wreaked havoc on vineyards across France, which are forecast to report harvest losses of up to a third on a year.

But champagne must be aged over a year and producers traditionally keep millions of bottles locked away in their cellars to ensure steady supplies from one year to the next.

Strong exports, especially to English-speaking countries, were a big factor for the bumper year, Barillere said.

“The pandemic has created new consumer habits,” he said. “Everything related to entertaining at home is in high demand, including champagne.”

But the prospects for traditional events and restaurant dining over Christmas and New Year’s depends on Covid developments, and whether the Omicron strand prompts new travel restrictions, curfews or lockdowns.

“Two weeks ago I would have told you that the outlook for the festive season was excellent but the new variant has dampened our optimism,” he said.

There was now a danger of a “terrible halt” to plans for end-of-year festivities.

Dozens of countries have reported Omicron cases and the World Health Organisation has said it could take weeks to determine how dangerous the variant really is.

The EU health agency meanwhile has warned that the new strand could cause more than half of Europe’s Covid cases in the next few months.

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