Top champagne house may buy English vineyards

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The leading champagne house Louis Roederer is considering buying vineyards in England. A team from the makers of Cristal, the world's most expensive bubbly, say they have held "very interesting" discussions with new English winemakers. "Maybe in three to five years this will go further in a joint venture," said the vineyard director, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon.

The news is hardly a surprise in the industry. First, there is a global champagne shortage. The Champagne region is struggling to meet demand, so much so that the French authorities are considering expanding the appellation into 40 new communes.

Last year, champagne houses shipped 333 million bottles worldwide, more than the average annual supply in the past 10 years of 330 million bottles.

Second, as a result of decades of experimentation with grape varieties and a warming climate, English sparkling wine has become a sophisticated and respected drink. The soil and temperature of southern counties such as Sussex and Kent almost exactly match the 32,000 hectares in Champagne. But land here is much cheaper, as little as £4,000 an acre compared with more than £100,000 for Champagne vineyards.

Louis Roederer, an acquisitive family-owned house, has already bought foreign vineyards and is producing wine in Australia, California and Portugal. It will soon buy land here, according to Simon Field, champagne buyer at Britain's oldest wine merchant, Berry Bros.

"I think it's only a matter of time," he said. "I know quite a few of the grand crus, Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon have been making exploratory inquiries; aerial photography, soil studies and so on. I know that Louis Roederer has been interested for some time."

During the house's visit at the end of September, Louis Roederer's president, Frederic Rouzaud, toured one unplanted site and three vineyards, two in Kent and one in Sussex.

Earlier, Roederer's group president Jean-Claude Rouzaud indicated that the company would wait to see how climate change affected viticulture before deciding to invest in England.

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