Taittinger Champagne proposal for winery and visitor centre in Chilham, outside Canterbury, approved by Ashford council
Published: 06:00, 21 July 2020
Updated: 08:20, 21 July 2020
Co-run by global champagne firm Taittinger, the new development in Chilham has been given a unanimous seal of approval to start construction.
The state-of-the-art winery, which will also act as a visitor centre, will be built off New Cut Road on part of a 550-acre vineyard estate owned by Domaine Evremond, an English sparkling wine producer.
Critics had raised concerns over the scheme's intrusiveness in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), suggesting the beige-coloured proposal would be a "very large blot on the landscape" as well as raising fears over light pollution.
But the plans were waved through by Ashford Borough Council's planning committee and work is now due to begin as soon as possible.
Once fully up-and-running, 400,000 bottles of "premium quality sparkling wine" will be made each year at the site.
The wine will be matured for a minimum of three years under carefully-controlled conditions, before being disgorged - which means removing the sediment - topped up and capped. It will then be labelled and packaged on site and transferred for sale.
It is hoped the first batch will be bottled for secondary fermentation by March next year, before the release of Domaine Evremond's new Chilham-sourced label in 2024.
Domaine Evremond is a collaboration between renowned French champagne producer, Taittinger, and UK-based partners, Hatch Mansfield.
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, the president of Taittinger, dug the first ground on the Chilham vineyard back in 2017.
Acres of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes have since been planted and now the estate will be capped off with a winery.
Bosses say the new facility has been designed to ensure grape juice travels by gravity to the vats without the use of pumps.
Patrick McGrath, managing director at Hatch Mansfield, said: "Our vision is to produce premium English sparkling wine and to deliver a top quality centre in Chilham.
"Production of the best wine is all about the attention to detail and we'll be following that same ethos in building our winery and shaping it to fit sympathetically among our vineyards.
"Domaine Evremond is committed to delivering this investment as soon as possible despite current economic circumstances and firmly believes this will cement Ashford's place on the map as a premier wine-producing region."
A total of 32 parking spaces will be installed for staff and customers to the visitor centre.
Visitors, who will need to book a slot, will be given a tour of the winery's top-floor, which is set to boast views across the vineyards and over towards Chilham Castle.
Peter Higgs, chairman of the Chilham Tourism and Retail Group, said the scheme would be a great benefit to the area.
"Rural villages are battling to survive in the current economic climate," he said.
"We feel the development will draw in much-needed additional interest to Chilham parish and be an important part of the offering to tourists who are the lifeblood of our members."
Meanwhile, at the virtual decision-making meeting, borough council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson led the authority's praise for the project.
"Quite frankly, with this borough being right in the heart of the Garden of England, I can't think of any development more appropriate than a winery," he said.
"This is a winery backed by a very well-known and respected brand name and there is a great deal of support for it in the village."
More by this authorJoe Wright