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Why Wine Tourists Are Flocking To England (Yes, England)

July 2019Words by Mr Chris Elvidge

The Simpsons Wine Estate, Elham Valley in the North Downs of Kent. Photograph by Mr Thomas Alexander, courtesy of Simpsons Wine Estate

If you were suddenly to find yourself in a landscape of rolling hills planted with vines of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes, you might deduce, with the help of a little bit of viticultural wisdom, that you had somehow landed in the Champagne region of northern France. There’s a good chance you’d be right, too. Those are the grape varieties that form the so-called champagne triumvirate used by the region’s winemakers to produce its world-famous sparkling wine.

But the wineries of northern France – household names such as Moët & Chandon, Bollinger and Louis Roederer – are not alone in having mastered the méthode champenoise. There are now producers from as far afield as the valleys of northern California and the mountain ranges of southern Australia making sparkling wine according to the very same method, albeit without the benefit of the official Champagne appellation. And they’ve been joined in recent years by a new pretender to the throne, this one from far closer to home: the English county of Kent.

Enticed by the south-facing slopes, the rapidly warming climate and the fast-draining, limestone-rich soil, a new generation of winemakers is flocking to the so-called Garden of England and buying up land in the hope of creating the world’s next great fizz. Among them are husband-and-wife duo Ms Ruth and Mr Charles Simpson, who invested in two prime plots just south of Canterbury in 2012 and have spent the past seven years setting up Simpsons Wine Estate, which produced its first harvest in 2016 and released its first wines the year after.