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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Kent's champagne popping prospect
Champagne bottle and glass
The English are big champagne consumers
Champagne houses are considering exporting the production to the Garden of England.

Climate change and the chalk geology of hills in Kent and Sussex has led to three French firms thinking about making the move.

The champagne houses are talking to Kent-based English Wines Group about the possibilities in the county.

High land prices in Champagne and growing acclaim for English sparkling wine have added to the interest.

Frazer Thompson, managing director of English Wines Group, based in Tenterden, Kent, said there were a number of reasons for the interest from the champagne houses.

"One is climate - one of two degrees change in the wine world is hugely significant.

It would be nice for it to happen in the year anniversary of the Entente Cordiale
Frazer Thompson, English Wines Group

"We have already seen a 1% increase in the South East.

"The temperature change is starting to make it slightly unviable in the Champagne region of France," he said.

He said the temperature rise meant the conditions in Kent and Sussex were now more favourable to produce the grapes used for Champagne.

English Wines Group was set up only three years ago.

It buys grapes mainly from professional farmers then produces its wines.

Mr Thompson said it had seen a 40% growth in production, with its two prized wines being Chapeldown and Curious Grape.

South-facing aspect

Negotations with the French houses cover a range of options for production and growing grapes.

Mr Thompson said the geology of the South Downs made the region a favourable option for the French to consider.

He said: "The south-facing aspect and the chalk sub-soil is almost identical to champagne."

Soaring land prices in Champagne have also meant producers are looking elsewhere.

An acre of land in the sought-after region would cost 250,000, whereas the equivalent in Kent is 2,500.

Mr Thompson said English sparkling wine was growing in popularity and the taste was similar to champagne.

Early stages

The large amount of fizz consumed in England also made the country a good place for the business.

"We drink in total twice as much champagne as they do in America with a fifth of the number of the people," he said.

Negotiations are in the very early stages. But Mr Thompson said:

"It may take 20 years - it may take six months.

"It would be nice for it to happen in the year of the anniversary of the Entente Cordiale."

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