Chapel Down returns to profit as Britons snap up English sparkling wine

Sales have soared at English winemaker Chapel Down, as a growing number of Britons swap champagne for sparkling wines produced in the UK.

Andrew Carter, Chapel Down’s chief executive, told the Financial Times that it was good to be a “leading English brand” following Brexit, adding that people were “very proud” to drink sparkling wines produced at its vineyard in Kent.

“A major source of our volume growth, really, are consumers who drink champagne,” said Carter, who joined the company last September.

Chapel Down sold 1.5mn bottles of wine and spirits last year, with sales of sparkling wine in 2021 up 39 per cent from the previous year, the company said on Monday.

Revenues in the year to the end of December grew by a quarter to £16.6mn, excluding the craft brewery Curious Drinks, which Chapel Down sold last year. Profits before tax grew modestly to £1.1mn when adjusting for the sale of its beer and cider business.

“English wine is thriving,” Carter added.

Britons have acquired a taste for sparkling wine. Last year, they drank 151mn bottles of the beverage totalling nearly £1.4bn, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. That compares with 17mn bottles of champagne worth £610mn.

“There is some patriotism element to English sparkling wine, with many producers reporting a spike in sales during the European Football Championships last year,” said Richard Corbett, analyst at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis.

Chapel Down had been lossmaking for the previous two years, mainly due to Curious Drinks, which it put into administration and sold to former Patisserie Valerie chair Luke Johnson.

The winemaker’s former chief executive had warned before Brexit that restrictions on the movement of people would be bad for the English wine industry, which requires seasonal labour for grape picking.

Chapel Down said that the “Brexit fallout” was making it harder to access “foreign workers for our viticulture”, but added that its scale allowed it to still attract enough people.

Locked-down consumers have been spending more money than usual on alcohol to drink at home, but government-imposed closures of bars and restaurants hit winemakers and brewers hard.

Chapel Down said direct sales to consumers via its website now accounted for just under a quarter of its business, while it had added new grocers such as Tesco to its roster of retail partners. Sales via other retailers were up 19 per cent last year.

Kent was becoming “the world’s newest and most sensational wine region”, said the company’s chair Martin Glenn, who added that changes in alcohol duty that were announced last year were likely to benefit the company.

Glenn, a former Football Association boss, was among investors who last year ploughed £7mn into the company, as it raised funds to expand its vineyards and lift exports.