Taittinger is moving across the Channel. The Champagne house has acquired 170 acres of farmland in Kent, England, where they and local partners will plant a vineyard and produce English sparkling wine for a new brand called Domaine Evremond.
"We believe we can produce an excellent sparkling wine in this part of the world," Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, president of Champagne Taittinger, told Wine Spectator.
The U.K. is Champagne's largest export market, but this is the first time a major Champagne house has expanded there with the intent of producing premium English bubbles. "This is also our way of expressing our gratitude to the U.K. market for what they have done for Champagne for the last three centuries," said Taittinger. "This is the conclusion of a long love affair between the U.K. and Champagne."
The project is a joint venture with Taittinger's longtime U.K. importer Hatch Mansfield and private investors. The partners worked with Stephen Skelton, a 40-year veteran of English viticulture, to select the ideal terroir. "It took us two-and-a-half years to find the right location," said Taittinger.
At present, Domaine Evremond owns two large plots, currently used as an apple, pear and plum orchard, near Canterbury in southeast England, where much of the country's best fruit is grown. They will plant 99 acres to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, beginning in 2016 and finishing in 2017.
"It has the angle and soil—chalk, gravel, free-draining, south-facing, south-sloping," Skelton told Wine Spectator. "It's all below 80 meters above sea level. That's important, because of wind and exposure. We're a marginal climate. We're at the very limit."
The temperatures are roughly what Champagne had 30 years ago, explained Skelton, but the climates are different. England has a maritime climate and Champagne is continental. But both wine regions are planted on the famous swathe of chalk that stretches across southern England, opens to the sea at Dover and surfaces again in Champagne.
Evremond will be joining a small but growing group of premium English sparkling-wine producers like Nyetimber, Coates & Seely, Chapel Down, Wiston and Gusbourne, all part of England's emerging identity as a wine region where bubbly is the main attraction. "As a team, we have a real belief in the potential of English sparkling wine. Our aim is not just to be an English sparkling winemaker, but also to be a significant supporter of the whole English wine industry," said Patrick McGrath, managing director of Hatch Mansfield.
The country remains a small producer—just 470 vineyards and 135 wineries, but vineyard plantings are on the rise, with Champagne grape varieties representing 50 percent of the 4,940 acres currently planted, primarily in the southern counties of East and West Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and Surrey.
Taittinger also noted that this is not his company's first foray out of Champagne. "Our family has already had considerable success planting sparkling wine vineyards in the U.S.A. when we launched Domaine Carneros, our venture with the Kopf family of Kobrand Wine & Spirits, in 1987. We hope to replicate this success in the U.K.," he said.
The third generation to run the Champagne house and a passionate historian with a certain flare for romanticism, Taittinger took inspiration from "the first true ambassador for Champagne" for naming the new winery. Charles de Saint-Évremond was a 17th-century Frenchman who fled France for political reasons to the safety of England, where he enjoyed an elegant, epicurean and literary lifestyle in the court of King Charles II.
"He was a great connoisseur of food and wine, and a Champagne man," said Taittinger.