Top French champagne makers may soon produce their bubbly from Sussex vineyards

Last updated at 09:04 03 January 2008

Top French champagne makers may soon produce their bubbly from vineyards in Sussex.

Soaring world demand means the French region officially allowed to use the name champagne is struggling to cope.

Now makers of Cristal, Tattinger and Veuve Cliquot champagnes are considering buying up vineyards in Sussex.

Climate change means temperatures in the south of England are approaching levels similar to Bordeaux some 30 years ago.

Senior industry figures have toured the south east with a view to buying up land, planting vines and producing fine sparkling wine.

Globally, champagne houses shipped 333 million bottles in 2006 - 11 million more than in the previous year.

Despite last year's harvest producing the largest volume ever, the tiny, 135-square-mile region that is officially allowed to use the name is struggling to cope with demand.

And while an acre of established vineyard in the champagne region would cost £300,000, an acre of land in England suitable for planting vines would cost only £10,000.

Stephen Skelton, a vineyard consultant, said that he had toured Sussex with senior figures from Louis Roederer - maker of Cristal - who had been impressed with the potential of the land for producing fine wine.

He said: "They see it as a strong possibility for the future.

"So much champagne and sparkling wine is being sold that they know they have to look for alternatives, and some of our best sparkling wines are as good as champagne."

Pinot noir and chardonnay - the grapes used to make champagne - are already being grown in Sussex and other counties in the south of England, which have similar soil and temperatures to wine-growing regions in northern France.

A wine produced in Sussex beat competition from 55 other countries to be named the "best sparkling wine in the world" in 2005.

The Ridgeview Marret Bloomsbury, which is made at Ridgeview vineyard in Ditchling, near Brighton, took the top honour at the International Wine and Spirit Competition.

In just seven years of sales, the vineyard has won 80 medals and 15 trophies in international and national competitions.

Owner Michael Roberts said he had already been visited by two French champagne-makers.

He said: "There is undoubted interest from the French. One of our wines recently won a gold medal in a French competition, which is a huge accolade and an indication of the quality of English wines.

"The big champagne-makers have been looking around but they are keeping their powder dry for now. It will be interesting to see how it develops."

The move comes as champagne enjoys a surge in popularity.

British supermarkets and wine merchants have reported sales growth of up to 40 per cent this year.

Major retailers slashed prices in the run up to New Year's Eve, with some labels selling in supermarkets for as little as £10.