Chapel Down is one of England’s most successful wineries, whose first vineyard in Tenterden, Kent, was planted in 1977. It is now the largest UK wine producer, making a range of Champagne-style sparkling wine and aromatic white, red and rosé wines, and has won a plethora of accolades. The Tenterden vineyard is home to its state-of-the-art winery, headed by winemaker Josh Donaghay-Spire who gained experience in wineries in Alsace, Champagne and South Africa.
The south-east of England is blessed with a cool, maritime climate and a wide varieties of soils and slopes with which the Chapel Down team can match the appropriate grape varieties to their ideal conditions. As well as its Tenterden vineyard, it now also has a large vineyard in nearby Aylesford, but it also sources fruit from trusted growers on the South Downs of Sussex, the chalk downlands of Hampshire and other areas in Essex and Kent.
The 9 hectares at Tenterden are on clay loam over sand on south-facing slopes. Here, the team plants pinot noir (used for the red and rosé as well as sparkling wines), pinot blanc, chardonnay and bacchus, a relatively new grape variety perfectly suited to English viticulture, some of which has been planted here since 1987.
At Aylesford, the Kit’s Coty vineyard is planted exclusively with the chardonnay and pinot noir used for Chapel Down’s sparkling wine, thanks to its ideal, gentle, south-facing slopes of chalky, well-draining soil. So far 30 of the 45 hectares are planted, leaving room for inevitable expansion.
Among the various varieties sourced elsewhere is rondo, another popular grape used in English red wine production.
All grapes are harvested by hand before being transferred to the winery, where they undergo a gentle pressing before being fermented at low temperatures in stainless-steel tanks, with the exception of a small percentage of the chardonnay which ferments in barrels. The sparkling wine can spend up to five years ageing on its lees for added depth and texture. The team also produces a range of three popular beers called Curious Brew.