Taittinger Becomes First Champagne House to Invest in English Sparkling Wine

Unknown-3In a remarkable move, highly respected champagne house Taittinger announced it has invested in a substantial plot of  land in the UK to create a vineyard.  We caught up with the team to discover more…

Q: Why has Taittinger decided to make English Sparkling Wine now?

For a number of years, we have been very excited about the potential of English Sparkling Wine, but it has been about finding the right time and place to realise our dream. Taittinger believe they can make a high quality premium sparkling wine in Kent – the combination of soil, climate, topography and time are right. This is a project that has been discussed on a number of occasions, but they had never yet found the right opportunity. The increasing suitability of the climate in the UK has been a contributing factor.

There is increased consumer interest in English Sparkling Wine and its sense of place. The UK is Taittinger’s number one export market, and the project shows their appreciation for all the support the UK has given to Champagne over hundreds of years.

Taittinger already also has close connections to the UK. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (President) started his career in the UK. And his father, Jean Taittinger twinned Canterbury with Reims over 45 years ago when he was Mayor of Reims.

Q: What vineyard have you bought?

Domaine Evremond has purchased 69 hectares of land at Stone Stile Farm, near Chilham, Kent – close to Canterbury and Faversham. 40 hectares of the farm has the ideal terroir/soil to plant high quality vines. Taittinger aim to plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the same vines as in Champagne – and on similar soils. Planting will be on south facing slopes at a maximum height of 80m above sea level. Kent is already proven as an excellent area to grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Q: Did Taittinger consider anywhere else?

We looked at land in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire but we found the prime site that really works for us in Kent.

Q: Who is involved?

This is a ‘family’ venture between friends – a collaboration between Champagne Taittinger (55%), its UK agent Hatch Mansfield and private British investors and friends.

Q: What is Hatch Mansfield?

Hatch Mansfield is a UK wine company specialising in premium wines made by independent, family owned wine producers, building their sales, distribution and image in the UK market. Hatch Mansfield works with brands from around the world such as Louis Jadot from Burgundy, Villa Maria from New Zealand and Errazuriz from Chile and CVNE from Rioja. The team has worked closely with the Taittinger family since 1998.

Q: Experience of Joint Ventures?

In 1987, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger’s uncle, Claude Taittinger embarked on a similar sparkling wine venture with the Kopf family of Kobrand Wine & Spirits in the USA and launched Domaine Carneros by Taittinger, a terroir- driven wine producer and now one of the leading quality sparkling wine and Pinot Noir producers in California.  Pierre-Emmanuel has always dreamt of doing something similar with his English friends.

Q: What does Taittinger aim to achieve?

Our ambition is to produce very high quality sparkling wines using the combined experience of Champagne Taittinger in managing vineyards and making top quality Champagne; and of Hatch Mansfield in marketing and selling premium wine from independent wine companies. This joint expertise gives us a real belief that we can contribute to the growing and exciting potential of English Sparkling Wine. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger describes it as a ‘project between friends’, and this sums it up very nicely. Taittinger’s aim is not just to be an English Sparkling Winemaker, but also a significant supporter of the whole English wine industry.

Q: Who has it been bought from?

The farm is owned by the Gaskain family who are long established Kent fruit farmers. They will continue to grow quality apples, pears and plums next to the Domaine. Stephen Skelton MW, one of the UK’s leading Viticulture Consultants, has also be involved in the project from the beginning in the capacity of viticulture advisor.  The land was sold by BTF land agents. Strutt & Parker have been advising Champagne Taittinger and Hatch Mansfield on the acquisition and negotiated the purchase on their behalf.

Q: How much are you investing?

This is an ongoing project which we expect to be a multi-million pound investment over the next 10 years.

Q: Who will manage the vineyard?

There will be significant input from Taittinger’s own viticulture team, Damien Le Sueur, Directeur Général, Champagne Taittinger, Vincent Collard, Directeur des Vignobles, Champagne Taittinger and Franck Mazy, their viticultural consultant, who have a wealth of experience. Plus we will continue to take advice from Stephen Skelton MW, one of the UK’s leading Viticulture Consultants.

Q: What will the wines be called?

The naming of the wines is currently being discussed. But the wine company will be known as Domaine Evremond.

Q: Why this name?

Charles de Saint-Evremond (1614-1703) was a Frenchman who was a connoisseur of delicate and elegant Champagnes, and a lover of fine dining.  He was the first true ambassador for Champagne in the UK. In his time, Charles was a field marshal of Louis XIV’s armies. Besides being a valiant soldier, he was also an epicurean, writer and literary critic. In 1661 he was exiled to England following his attacks on French policy, and it was during this time as a writer that he started the fashion of drinking Champagne at the court of Charles II, and he remained a darling of London society for over thirty years. Following his death in 1703 he was buried in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey – a great honour for a French writer reflecting his ‘exceptional status’ of that time.

Westminster Abbey and Reims Cathedral (Reims being the home to Taittinger) are naturally linked by their Coronation ceremonies for Kings and Queens alike.

Taittinger also own a Champagne – St Evremond named after Charles de Saint-Evremond – and will gift this name to their new UK domaine. It is a natural tribute for Taittinger to name this Franco/ British alliance in his name.

Q: When will wine production begin?

There will be no wine produced until the plots have been transformed into vineyards. The planting of vines on over 40 hectares will begin in earnest from 2017, once vine clones and rootstocks have been chosen. The first fruit for winemaking will be available in 2020, bottled in 2021. We are looking at around eight years before our first Domaine wine is produced. Our Domaine Evremond non vintage English Sparkling will be our talisman, just as Taittinger Brut Réserve non vintage is for Taittinger.

Q: How many bottles will be produced?

Ultimately we are aiming for circa 300,000 bottles plus per annum.

Q: Where will this English Sparkling Wine be positioned?

The aim is to make a premium English Sparkling Wine. Taittinger’s positioning is always to be premium in its category, be that in Champagne or in Sparkling wine in the USA. Our signature cuvée, when it is launched, will sit alongside the other premium English Sparkling Wines.