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Chapel Down CEO Andrew Carter: “I want to change the view of English wine for ever’’

·4-min read
Andrew Carter is the boss of Chapel Down (Chapel Down)
Andrew Carter is the boss of Chapel Down (Chapel Down)

Starting as a new CEO is never easy. Succeeding someone who’s been there for two decades adds more pressure.

Andrew Carter finds himself in this unenviable position. He has just taken over as boss of England’s biggest wine-maker Chapel Down.

He replaces Frazer Thompson, who retired in September. Over 20 years, Thompson built up the Aquis-listed producer — backed by City veteran Michael Spencer — from a single winery at Tenterden on the edge of the Kent Weald into a company with a market cap of £85 million. Top that.

Carter is undaunted. Experts say Kent is set to become one of the best wine-producing regions in the world and Carter sees plenty of growth ahead.

“The vision is to change the world’s perception of English wine for ever,” he says gesturing at the vineyard outside the window of Tenterden’s The Swan restaurant. “The chance to build a wine-making region doesn’t happen much in life — you’ve got to go back to Marlborough [in New Zealand] in the Eighties, or Germany in the Seventies. We’re creating a new wine region.”

Carter, 52, was introduced to Thompson by a mutual contact, ex-FA chief and Chapel Down chairman Martin Glenn. The father-of-three, who lives in Buckinghamshire, comes fresh from overseeing the sale of Herefordshire gin producer Chase Distillery to Diageo.

In his new role, he has gone back to basics. Carter says he has been “touching every part of the business” — including picking grapes by hand and doing night shifts.

“Because Frazer is retiring, we’ve had a whole period of handover,” he says in his first major interview since becoming CEO. “It’s been the perfect introduction, and from a team point of view I’ve now given them my impression of my vision, mission and roadmap for the company. I think everyone is pretty fired up.”

Carter started out with a five-year stint at Reckitt, but left after “one too many focus meetings about toilet cleaners”. He has held senior roles at giants including Bacardi, but his passion was always wine, he says.

Carter joins just as demand for UK-grown fizz is soaring. Chapel Down’s sparkling revenues were up more than 50% last year, despite champagne sales dipping worldwide. In October it passed the 1.5 million bottle mark.

Carter wants to grow the business tenfold and push the producer’s presence further into bars, restaurants and hotels — a key area he thinks Chapel Down needs to develop.

By 2026, he wants to be producing around three million bottles per year.

Chapel Down’s sparkling revenues were up more than 50% last year (Chapel Down)
Chapel Down’s sparkling revenues were up more than 50% last year (Chapel Down)

“The vision really for me is to be the number one, most celebrated English wine-maker. What does that mean? It means growing our business tenfold,” he says. “The total market for sparkling wine in the UK only is about 200 million bottles, the champagne market about 21 million — English sparkling is about 3.5 [million]. The opportunity is huge.”

Carter’s team is now working on a new high-end bottle to sell to hospitality — one you won’t be able to get in Waitrose, where a classic cuvée goes for £27. The CEO also isn’t shy about saying he thinks Chapel Down could sell for more — a bottle of sparkling from rival Nyetimber is about £8 more expensive.

Chapel Down has 789 acres of vineyards in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Essex.

The Chancellor’s recently announced cut to sparkling wine rates comes into force in 2023 and Carter plans to plough those savings back into the expansion.

One challenge is in selling his vision to the markets.

“We’ve got great shareholders and investors, but we haven’t gone more publicly to the world and said what our vision is, and how we are going to build this roadmap,” Carter says.

He is confident the eco-friendly mindset of younger generations will help Chapel Down grow long-term.

“Why would you drink a bottle of champagne that’s been imported from France when on your doorstep you’ve got better sparkling wines? That’s where the world is moving,” the CEO says, adding: “I definitely think Rishi Sunak understands that this is the fastest-growing agricultural industry in the UK.”

Cheers to that.

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