Gusbourne Expands U.K. Sparkling Winemaking After Ashcroft Deal

Gusbourne Estate, a vineyard in southeast England seeking to cash in on growing demand for U.K. sparkling wine, is planning to triple its area under vine and build its own winery following a change in ownership.

Shellproof Plc, an investment company controlled by former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Michael Ashcroft, acquired Gusbourne in a 7 million-pound ($11 million) transaction this month and announced plans to develop the business along with an existing vineyard holding in West Sussex.

The move comes amid increasing consumer appetite in the U.K. for locally produced sparkling wine, as higher temperatures in the past two decades have enabled vineyards to produce riper grapes and start to challenge French growers on quality. While vines have been grown in Britain for more than 1,000 years, recent improvements in winemaking techniques and grape selection are starting to transform the industry.

“I’m very grateful for some of the pioneers who put English winemaking on the map,” Shellproof Chief Executive Officer Ben Walgate said in an interview in London last week. It’s a “very exciting new form of agriculture for the U.K.”

Gusbourne Estate, on south-facing slopes outside the Kent village of Appledore, grows Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the three varieties used in France’s Champagne region. It makes Brut Reserve and a blended rose sparkling wine from all three grapes, as well as a Blanc de Blancs Chardonnay and a still red Pinot Noir.

Kent Farmland

The vineyard was established 10 years ago by Andrew Weeber, a South African orthopedic surgeon with a practice in the U.K., who had decided to experiment with grapes on the site after buying arable farmland in the area. The winemaking has been carried out externally since then under contract. Following the arrival of fermentation tanks, it will be done at the vineyard from this year’s vintage.

“Realistically it’s an acquisition, but in many ways it’s a marriage,” Weeber, who will be chairman, said in an interview. “I’ve got planning permission for a beautiful winery. This allows us to compress the timescale.”

Gusbourne already has 50 acres (20 hectares) of mature vineyard spread across three plots on the same site, and plans to plant a further 100 acres over the next two years, according to Shellproof’s stock-market filing this month.

“We have much more acreage to go out there in Kent,” Walgate said. Including Sussex, the enlarged company will have 205 acres of vineyards.

Financing Growth

As part of the transaction, Shellproof announced a stock placing to raise 2.85 million pounds for funding the expansion, and is also changing its name to Gusbourne Plc. Its shares are being re-admitted to London Stock Exchange Group Plc’s Alternative Investment Market.

Gusbourne currently sells its sparkling wines for between 24.99 pounds and 29.99 pounds a bottle on its website. The expanded company intends to produce more than 500,000 bottles a year once all its vineyards in Kent and Sussex reach maturity, according to the offer document.

Full output is not scheduled to be reached for about 11 years, allowing for three years to plant further vines, four more years to reach peak grape production and another four for the wines to mature.

Gusbourne joins a list of vineyards across southern England making sparkling wine as a product for which there is both local demand and export potential. Wineries include Chapel Down in neighboring Tenterden, Ridgeview Wine Estate near Brighton, whose first vintage dates back to 1996, and Nyetimber, which has 375 acres of vineyards planted in West Sussex and Hampshire.

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