A Toast to England

While many people know that Champagne is a sparkling wine, frequently, people are unaware that not all sparkling wines are Champagne. Champagne is a special region in northeast France, where the climate, soils, grape varieties, viticultural practices and vinification methods make it an ideal place to create a world class sparkler. While there are certainly other quality sparkling wines out there, unless the grapes are grown and wine is made within the Champagne region, it is not Champagne.

As a wine, Champagne is well known and highly regarded, with a consistently strong demand for the product. In fact, it is expected that by 2015, the demand for Champagne will significantly outweigh supply. If Champagne were a widget, the producers would simply increase the production of Champagne to meet the growing demand and increase their potential profits. However, Champagne is certainly not a widget and the ability to increase production is nearly impossible. While the French authorities are currently considering an expansion of the designated geography for Champagne, today there are only 32,000 hectares under vine, which includes the additional 620 acres that were planted in Champagne over the past three years.

Those producers seeking to enlarge their holdings find that there is a scarcity of vineyards for sale. Of 754 real estate transactions in the past year, there were only a total of 162 hectares that traded hands. Even if land becomes available on the market, it is a considerable investment at £120,000 per hectare, not including the investment to plant and maintain the vineyard. Other sources put this figure at €627,000/hectare. Prices have been rising rapidly and have tripled over the past 15 years and show an increase of 8.4% on 2005. Consequently, the ability to purchase additional land becomes out of the question for the small producers and still remains difficult for even the wealthiest of Champagne houses.

Conversely, land in England is considerably less expensive. That same hectare will only set you back £3,000 - 4,000. And, with the effects of global warming making its presence known in England, this once-forgotten area (forgotten as a wine region) is beginning to show promise as a prime location for the creation of sparkling wines.

Thus, it should come as no surprise to learn that a number of the large Champagne houses are interested in investing in English vineyard land, particularly in Kent and Sussex. Recent reports, as published in the New Zealand Herald and Decanter, indicate that Louis Roederer, producer of Cristal, is strongly considering such a purchase. Rumors regarding Tattinger, Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon suggest that the same inquiries are being made by these grand cru Champagne producers. If you can’t increase your property holdings at home, buying cheaper land and expanding elsewhere offers a great solution.

The English vineyards have strong appeal for these ventures because of the similarities they share with the Champagne region. The soils are chalky with good drainage and, thanks to global warming, the climate has grown steadily warmer in the last several years. More specifically, peak temperatures have risen 4C between 2000-2005. And, as temperatures rise not only in England, but elsewhere, there is concern that Champagne is getting too warm, so the milder climate in England may prove to be extremely important for the future of quality, sparkling wines.

Of course, only time will tell, but the current crop of English sparklers are getting good reviews.

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