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June 15, 2012 7:24 pm
Mention England’s “green and pleasant land”, and an image of lush pastures and rolling fields springs to mind. However, as signalled by the recent English Wine Week, the country’s traditional landscapes are changing, and, in certain areas of southern England, vineyards are replacing fields of oilseed rape and wheat. As a result, there is growing demand for land that can produce English sparkling wine.
“Three to five years ago there was no significant difference between the agricultural land value and vineyard land, as demand was very much in its infancy,” says Rupert Coles of Prime Purchase buying agents, a subsidiary of estate agents Savills. “Today it can command a premium of up to 20 per cent for the very best where there is competition.”
Vineyards in England fall into two different categories: vineyards without property, which are in increasing demand by commercial producers, and homes with vineyards for which traditionally there has been little interest, though this is changing.
“There is a romanticism about it,” says Chris White, general manager of Denbies Wine Estate, near Dorking in Surrey, which is the largest vineyard (265 acres) in the UK. “I see vineyards and homes with vineyards becoming more desirable, definitely,” he says.
Certainly, English sparkling wine is now being taken seriously. In the past six years, England has won nine trophies for the world’s top sparkling wine, which no other country has achieved, according to marketing group English Wine Producers. Denbies Cubitt Reserve, Nyetimber Classic Cuvée, Brightwell Sparkling Chardonnay and Ridgeview Cavendish are among internationally respected English wines. Even French champagne houses are rumoured to be scouting for land in south-east England.
Since 2004 the hectares devoted to grapes – predominantly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – in England have nearly doubled to 1,500ha (around 3,706 acres). Mark Driver of Rathfinny Estate, near Alfriston in East Sussex, expects that to double again within the next 10 years. Driver is typical of a growing breed of commercial viticulturist: a former City fund manager who switched careers three years ago, he converted a Sussex farm into a winegrowing estate. Driver’s wine has yet to reach the shelves (the grapes were only planted this year) but he is confident about its future.
“Twenty years ago, [English] grapes were struggling to ripen but now they are not as we have had a 1 per cent increase in temperature”, he says. “[Winemaking in England] is going to grow substantially.”
Valuing a vineyard is tricky. British estate agents are loath to estimate prices because the professional industry is so young: very few commercial vineyards come up for sale and any assessment has to take into account the age of the vines, topography and equipment. Added to which, the time lag from grape to a glass of sparkling wine is between three and four years, so in cases such as Driver’s the quality is still undetermined.
Nevertheless, small vineyards of less than 10 acres, for which there is more demand as they are more accessible, cost roughly £30,000 to £50,000 per acre. However, it is cheaper to buy in bulk and larger vineyards (more than 50 acres), are about £15,000 to £30,000 per acre.
Lifestyle enthusiasts tend to opt for a home with vines, which, if run as a small business, also has “tax advantages if allied to the home”, says Coles.
Hamptons is selling the late-Edwardian Highfield House near Chichester, on the edge of the South Downs, with a vineyard. The elegant nine-bedroom home comes with its own winery and vines in 10.5 acres of grounds and is on the market for £3.75m.
However, a home with a ready-planted vineyard is not always what wine enthusiasts look for. “People can be picky about the rootstock and the vines that they grow,” says Philip Harvey of Property Vision buying agents. “They like to make sure that it is their type of wine.” Many prefer to plant their own vines.
Though winegrowing in Britain stretches to Wales, Yorkshire and Derbyshire, vineyards flourish best in the warmer climate and chalky soil of the south-east, which replicates the Champagne vineyards of northern France.
The South Downs, which stretch from Kent, through East and West Sussex to Surrey and Hampshire, have the most sympathetic conditions and it is here that you find the larger commercial businesses, such as Rathfinny, Ridgeview (East Sussex), Nyetimber (West Sussex) and Denbies (Surrey).
Winemaking centres are slowly emerging in the neighbouring towns of Alfriston and Ditchling in East Sussex, and Petersfield and Winchester in Hampshire, and Driver expects these centres to grow. “It’s a massive employer and there are lots of jobs in wine,” says Driver. However, this area is among the most expensive in the country to buy a luxury family home.
Savills is selling Murlingden, a six-bedroom Victorian country house near Lamberhurst village in Kent, for £2.95m. Set in 5.5 acres with landscaped gardens and a tennis court, the spacious home also has its own half-acre vineyard. The current owners solve the problem of turning their grapes into wine by selling them to local award-winning winery Chapel Down in nearby Tenterden, and enjoying the finished product.
Buying in grapes is a practice more commercial producers are adopting. White says: “At the moment we [Denbies] are taking about 20 per cent of our grapes from other English vineyards though, as this market is exploding [Denbies now supply Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco], that percentage will be increasing over the next few years.”
Philip Harvey says: “The UK is not like France, where there is an established trade in terroirs. But it is slowly getting there.”
● English winemaking is an expanding and potentially profitable industry
● Growing your own grapes is enjoyable
● English vineyards are located in some of the loveliest parts of the country
● Maintaining a vineyard costs roughly £1,500 to £2,000 per acre per year
● Buyers of homes with vineyards generally want to plant their own grapes
● It is not easy finding the right land, which should be on a south-facing, protected, chalky slope
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