A Norman Foster-designed historic center for English wine, which supporters say will produce an affordable rival to prosecco, could receive planning approval within days.
Gary Smith, chief executive of MDCV UK, the winemaker behind the £30m Kentish Wine Vault project, said he was hopeful of his plans to transform the country’s wine sector by producing 5m bottles of English wine a year in the new location, after months of doubt
He hopes the site will produce sparkling white and rosé wines that will tempt some of Britain’s burgeoning market for Italian prosecco to try the garden of England’s homegrown effervescent.
A proposed visitor center attached to the vineyard, along with a restaurant, tasting room, and cafeteria, although built largely underground, would be located according to plans on a greenbelt in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty around the Cuxton Town.
Despite Medway council recommending approval of the plans, a planning committee decided last March that the project and the expected influx of approximately 300 visitors per day posed too great a risk to nature and the natural beauty of the area. .
Smith said, however, that his legal team had endorsed an appeal and that it was finalized on April 4. A decision from the planning inspector is expected within the next few weeks, and Smith plans to launch a “drink English” campaign if the plans are successful.
Smith said there was an opportunity, if not to “bring down prosecco”, to take part of the market by producing a similar style of English wine in the Kentish Vault through the Charmat production method, where the zing is achieved through fermentation. . in large stainless steel tanks.
He said: “There are 80 million bottles of prosecco shipped from Italy every year. If we’re producing up to 5 million bottles of wine and a large part of that could be prosecco style, we have an opportunity to tap into that market and bring people to English wine.
“Whereas, at the moment, there is quite a bit of English wine that is out of reach for normal consumers. You know, the average price of sparkling wine in the UK is around £13. Most English wines cost upwards of £30 a bottle. So we are creating accessibility.”
Smith said that while he did not support Britain’s departure from the EU, it could be “very good news on Brexit” as English wine could take advantage of higher import costs faced by vineyards on the European continent.
“I think English wine is really an industry that is in its infancy, and I think it could be huge in the future,” he said. “We are seeing warmer weather, drier weather in Essex and Kent, which will start to allow us to produce very high quality material that you will see coming out now.”
Smith added that the bubble shape of the visitor centre, described as a Teletubby palace by critics, in reference to the popular children’s television show, would give the English wine scene greater visibility on the world stage.
The building was designed by architect Lord Foster, whose projects include London’s City Hall and the Millennium Bridge, as well as Wembley Stadium. The project had the backing of both the Environment Agency and Natural England before it was rejected by Medway council’s planning committee last year.
Smith said: “What we don’t have is, like other new world or even old world wine regions, an iconic winery and landmark building that really identifies: ‘That’s a fantastic wine.’
“We think the Kentish Wine Vault will hopefully make that statement and really put Kent on the map. Kent has a fantastic terroir, soil. It’s the right place.
The organic winery will also produce still whites and rosés and use a variety of grapes including pinot noir and chardonnay, securing 1,600 acres for long-term farming.
The appeal against the planning committee’s decision centered on the fact that the site is already within hearing distance of the M2 and within the flight paths.
He said: “We think we ticked all the boxes and cross our fingers that the inspector thinks we have a good solid plan. I would put it as hopeful. We give our best.”