Lord Ashcroft unveils his sparkling ambition

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The Independent Online

The Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has unveiled plans to become one of the largest producers of English sparkling wine.

He wants to buy 150 acres of prime English vineyards in West Sussex with the aim of producing 400,000 bottles a year.

Shellproof, an Aim-listed cash shell company registered in Belize, is merging with a new company, Shellproof plc, which will be registered in the UK.

Lord Ashcroft, below, owns 76 per cent of the business, which is currently run by three members of his Belize Bank Holdings.

Shellproof has already bought its first vineyard for just under the asking price of £385,000, and has another £4m-plus of cash to spend on more vineyards and on constructing its own winery.

The Halnaker vineyard comprises 13 acres, of which 10 are already planted with mature vines.

Shellproof said that around 1.4 million bottles of English sparkling wine were sold in the UK last year, so its ambition of making 400,000 bottles would place it among the largest producers.

Demand for English sparkling wine was boosted by the Jubilee and Olympics, according to retailers like Waitrose and Tesco. It is also taking market share from traditional champagnes and winning international prizes.

But yesterday English sparkling winemaker Nyetimber said it has scrapped its entire 2012 grape harvest of 400,000 bottles because of the summer's poor weather.