On Tuesday 6 November, 20 Kent Business School (KBS) students visited three Kent wine producers to learn more about what it takes to start and run a wine estate in the United Kingdom.
The mild, sunny weather and beautiful Indian summer colours of the Kentish countryside formed the perfect backdrop to a fascinating tour around Simpsons Wine Estate in Barham, Biddenden Vineyards near Ashford and Chapel Down Winery in Small Hythe.
Producing wine in Kent is not as crazy an idea as it may sound at first. The characteristics of the Kentish soil are identical to the soil of the Champagne region in France and the county counts amongst the sunniest areas in Britain. The British are also enthusiastic consumers of sparkling wine. Sparkling wine consumption rose to 1.62m* hectolitres in 2016/17, roughly the equivalent of 162 Olympic swimming pools, which is a 77% increase since 2012/13, when 911,250 hectolitres were consumed.
The producers visited during the wine tour – since the start of 2018 united in the Wine Garden of England group – were all confident that the wine-making industry in Kent would continue to grow in the years to come and gave passionate presentations about their businesses to the group of students.
Charles and Ruth Simpsons took the students along on their journey from working in the pharmaceutical and humanitarian sector respectively, to starting a vineyard in France 16 years ago before trying their hand at producing wine in the UK. Charles told the group about his wish to make the world of sparkling wine less conventional and more fun, and smilingly invited the students to go down the helter skelter slide built in the centre of the winery.
Julian Barnes of Biddenden Vineyards gave a fascinating account of how the family farm embraced wine-producing in the 1960s, and is still going strong 50 years later with his sons the third generation to work in the family business. Julian pressed the student group to research how wines are made and transported when choosing a brand, and to keep a close eye on sustainable production and environmental impact.
Finally, Chapel Down MD Mark Harvey talked about the brand Chapel Down and its exciting prospects in the United States and the UK itself. With UK wine producers currently providing 1-2% of the sparkling wines to the UK markets, champagne prices increasing and UK the 6th largest consumer of sparkling wines worldwide, the future for Kent wines is looking bright indeed.
One of the KBS students’ commented: “It was such a lovely experience, and a stress relief from all the deadlines that are due. This is a definite recommendation for all students: a fantastic and relaxing way to learn something new”.