As Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger plants the first of 20 hectares of vines in Kent, so he makes history by being the first French Champagne house to plant vines in England. The farm at Chilham has been re-named Domaine Evremond after Pierre-Emmanuel’s Eighteenth Century ancestor and Pierre-Emmanuel explains to Geoffrey Dean what the company plans to do in the UK and his love of English sparkling wine. On the same day, Simpsons wine estate was also making a bit of history of its own by undergoing massive expansion.
We will have to wait until 2023 for the first of bottles of Domaine Evremond to be ready to drink. Taittinger plans to produce 300,000 bottles a year with the estate doubling in size over the next two to three years. Simpsons, meanwhile, are targeting 250,000 bottles of English sparkling wine per annum.
A little bit of history was written in Kent this week when Taittinger became the first Grande Marque Champagne house to plant vines in the UK with a view to making premium English sparkling wine.
The five-day planting sessions, which began to great fanfare last Wednesday, saw the first of 100,000 vines go into English terra firm over some 20 hectares. These comprised 9.7 ha of Pinot Noir, 7.3 ha of Chardonnay and 3 ha of Pinot Meunier.
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and his family, along with members of his Champenois technical team, were joined by members of the British wine trade and associates on what used to be Stone Stile Farm, an East Kent property near the village of Chilham.
A former fruit farm, it was bought from Mark Gaskain, one of a group of private investors who have collaborated with Taittinger and their UK distributors, Hatch Mansfield, to make the venture possible. Taittinger have a controlling 55% stake, and have renamed the farm Domaine Evremond after the Champagne-loving Frenchman, who was exiled to England and eventually buried in Westminster Abbey in 1703.
The flamboyant Pierre-Emmanuel spoke of his ‘great affection’ for Kent and England.
“My father twinned Canterbury with Reims when he was mayor of the latter in the 1950s,” he said. “We have been very impressed by the quality of English sparkling wine, and we believe the combination of chalk soils, climate and topography of our site in Kent are very similar to our terroir in Champagne.”
Addressing a dozen or so Kent producers who attended the planting, he added: “Be sure, we will try to be at your level with Evremond. We are all here to develop a signature of excellency, and we are going to do something very nice in this beautiful part of the world. We are going to reinforce the human project of our two teams – this human factor for me is absolutely essential. The Brexit does not exist in our hearts. I put Evremond under the protection of the Queen.”
Taittinger plan to increase the Chilham vineyards to a total of 40 hectares over the next two to three years. The first premium English sparkling wine from Domaine Evremond should be released in 2023, after three years of lees ageing. The goal eventually is to produce 300,000 bottles per annum, although the company are keen to buy or rent another site in Kent. It must, however, be below 100 metres, south-facing, on chalk and sheltered.
Simpsons also planted 40,000 new vines on the same day in Kent
Fifteen miles or so East of Chilham, at Barham on the other side of Canterbury, can be found Simpsons, an English wine estate which itself planted 40,000 new vines on the same day as Evremond.
This takes its total area under vine to 90 acres after prior plantings in 2014 and 2016 in their Roman Road vineyard.
Owned by Charles and Ruth Simpson, who started making wine in the Languedoc at Domaine Sainte Rose in the early millennium, the winery produced its first wine last year – 680 bottles of a still Chardonnay from 100% estate-grown fruit. The ambitious Simpsons want, however, to concentrate their efforts on premium sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with 250,000 bottles per year the target.
The first release of their sparkling wine will be in December 2018. Naked Wines has already pre-sold around 80% of it.
“We wanted to set aside a small quantity of Chardonnay to make our first still wine from the estate, and we are very happy with the result,” Charles Simpson told The Buyer. “Primary and malolactic fermentation took place in stainless steel tanks in our new winery, before the wine spent three months in French oak barrels. If the weather allows, we hope to be able to continue to produce a small amount of the Roman Road Chardonnay in future years.”