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Could English wine conquer the world?

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Lucy Fernandez from Toronto says she wouldn’t buy Chapel Down’s white wine

France, Italy and Spain are some of the world’s best known wine producing countries but could a growing English wine making industry ever threaten their dominance?

At English winemaker Chapel Down the opinions of a group of tourists sampling the various wines it produces are mixed.

“A bit bitter,” is Toronto tourist Lucy Fernandez’s take on the vineyard’s Flint Dry white wine.

She says Canadians are open to drinking wines from all over the world, but she wouldn’t buy this variety.

However, Andrew from Adelaide has tried the Bacchus 2016 white and says it “compares quite well” to wines he’s used to back in South Australia.

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Beatrice Ness from Paris is impressed with Chapel Down’s sparkling wine

Beatrice Ness, a teacher from Paris, has sampled a sparkling variety, arguably what the Kent-based vineyard is best known for, and is clearly impressed.

“This is as good as Moet champagne,” she says of the Three Graces 2011, costing £29.99 a bottle.

“We buy a lot of foreign wines in Paris and I think people would go for this.”

Growing industry

It’s no secret that English wine-making has taken off over the last decade, with industry sales hitting a record £130m .

However, while around four to five million bottles are produced each year, less is said about UK exports, which stood at just 250,000 in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available.

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Chapel Down is best known for its sparkling wines

Despite the small scale of the export industry, its reach is growing.

English sparkling wines were shipped to 27 markets last year compared with 19 in 2015, official statistics show.

With more UK land being used for grape growing, and the industry targeting exports of 2.5 million bottles by 2020, could the country be on track to becoming a serious wine producer on the world stage?

Chapel Down’s chief executive, Frazer Thompson, urges caution.

He says the firm has seen “consistent growth” over the last seven years and is tapping a wider range of markets, from North America to South East Asia.

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Chapel Down

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“You need a dose of realism,” says Frazer Thompson, chief executive of Chapel Down

Like most English winemakers, the majority of his exports are of sparkling wines, which account for just over half of the firm’s production.

But he points out that exports are only a “part of the story” and the firm is still largely focused on the UK, one of the world’s biggest wine markets.

“In the rest of the world there is potential but you need a dose of realism,” he says. “It took the French 350 years to export 50% of their champagne and the UK is their largest market.”

Producers tend to see certain international markets as better bets than others, preferring places that like wine but don’t have huge domestic industries of their own.

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Bob Lindo co-founded Camel Valley in Cornwall

France, Italy and Spain are “hard work”, says Bob Lindo, who founded the Cornish winery Camel Valley with his wife Annie in 1989.

But countries such as Japan, China and the US, which is his biggest market, buy much more.

“We are sold in 23 US states now,” Mr Lindo says. “There are a lot of parts of America that don’t grow wine and there’s a very enthusiastic wine culture.”

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Camel Valley Wines 2017

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The Camel Valley winery in Cornwall has done well in international competitions

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