Chapel Down: Demand for English sparkling wine is ‘extraordinary’

Managing director of wines and spirits at Chapel Down, Mark Harvey has poured cold water over concerns relating to a potential oversupply of English wine in the years ahead, stating that demand is at “an all time high”.

Speaking to the drinks business at the Chapel Down Gin Works in London’s King’s Cross yesterday, Harvey was upbeat about the potential growth of the industry and whether there would be future demand.

“Our wine business is dead exciting at the moment and the demand for what we have is at an all time high,” he said. “There’s demand across all of English wine but particularly concentrated on traditional method sparkling wines. The fact that we’re in a position to increase supply of these products is really good for the industry.”

“The headline numbers in the UK in terms of total sparkling wine consumption are so high that you’ve got to think that England should be pretty confident in its domestic market to able to sell to the levels that are being forecasted. If there’s 30 million bottles of Champagne, 100m of Prosecco and 170m bottles of sparkling wine, for England to be able to grow to 40m bottles by 2040 I feel is achievable.”

Speaking about concerns relating to pricing, he said that it was important to have wines available at either ends of the price spectrum, citing the Chapel Down Brut as a wine that was capable of enticing customers into the category.

“We’re well positioned for growth in that our Chapel Down Brut is 20% below grandes marques Champagne pricing, so it’s in that sweet spot for those that are new into English wine that want real bang for their buck. It provides a comfortable landing spot.

“And then if you want to go up a tier and go into more premium wines, we have things like Three Graces and Kit’s Coty, which are more akin to grands marques Champagne pricing.

Chapel Down’s Mark Harvey

“Plus a new product that we have is sparkling Bacchus, a non-traditional method wine which gives you another tier. It’s meant to be more light-hearted, young and fun, and as Prosecco starts to fatigue in terms of sales, it offers something that’s fresh and branded – Prosecco is not branded – and a really interesting alternative for on-trade accounts as well as consumers.

According to WineGB, a total of three million vines are due to be planted this year, with two million in 2018 and one million in 2017. A total of 3,579 hectares are currently under vine, up 83% since 2015. 28% of grape growers are also intending to plant vines over the next three years.

2019 harvest

Speaking about this year’s harvest, which at Chapel Down is scheduled to continue until 20 October, Harvey said that there had been some disruption with the rain but that quality was good.

“This harvest is looking promising, it won’t be on the level of last year and we won’t get anywhere near like the tonnage we got per acre last year.

“There’s been a fair amount of rain at the start of harvest which we’ve had to manage with the pickers and the logistics at the winery.

“One day last week and Tuesday this week we weren’t able to pick due to the rain, and the schedules have needed to be updated.

“It’s definitely challenging because fruit is coming in thick and fast and if you lose a day it can be tricky. It’s a bit of juggling act but we’ll get there.

“Overall we’re happy with the quality. There is always a danger of botrytis as when there’s too much rain, the grapes start to split, the fruit flies get in and botrytis can set in quite fast.

“At the moment there are little bits and pieces of botrytis, but nothing to worry us.”

Exports and brand building 

In reference to exports, Harvey believes that a figure of 20% in terms of total percentage of exports is achievable.

Exports constituted 8% of total sales in 2018, up from 4% in 2017. The largest markets are the US (with a 22% share) Norway (18%) and Denmark (12%).

He said: “Exports will be important in time. While I think there’s a big opportunity in the domestic market, it’s also smart to continue to push export opportunities, and I think the US is a good option.

“Brand Britain is well received there and that all helps us.”

“We talk about going to around a 20% market share for exports which feels do-able, but it takes time. In the UK there’s real momentum and awareness but in the US it’s still early days.”

In the US, Chapel Down works with ABCK corporation and is sold in premium restaurants on the east and west coast.

Harvey also said that branding building was vital to develop the industry.

“As English wine starts to grow, we need to focus more on getting brands out there,” he said.

Chapel Down currently works with the food and wine festival at Ascot, sponsors The Boat Race, and has deals with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Opera House and the Donmar Theatre.

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