The Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft has unveiled plans to become one of the largest producers of English sparkling wine. He wants to buy up 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 registered in Belize, is merging with a new company, Shellproof plc, which will be registered in the UK.
Lord Ashcroft owns 76 per cent of the company, which is currently run by three members of his Belize Bank Holdings.
Shellproof has already bought its first vineyard for just under the recent asking price of £385,000, and has another £4m-plus of cash to spend on further vineyards and constructing its own winery.
The Halnaker vineyard comprises 13 acres, with 10 acres already planted with mature vines. The company has also agreed to take grapes from a further 27 acres of tenanted vineyards and wants to add another 110 acres of vines.
Shellproof said that about 1.4 million bottles of English sparkling wine were sold in the UK last year, so 400,000 bottles would place it among the largest producers.
The news came as Nyetimber, one of the most sucessful UK winemakers, said it will not harvest this year's crop because of low quality and volumes of grapes after appalling summer weather.