In the twentieth of our series of articles describing how one couple finds their new life in Rye, they chart the success of a local business with a new link to London – Chapel Down.
Welcome to vine country
Relocating to Rye over four years ago now, we hadn’t fully appreciated that we were moving to one of England’s most celebrated wine producing areas – Kent and Sussex.
Surprisingly, some might say, living in close proximity to acres and acres of vines had not been on our long wish-list of criteria for our new home.
However, fear not, we were soon familiarising ourselves with the local producers. And one in particular stood out: Chapel Down.
Sparkling. And we’re not just talking about the wine
Chapel Down initially made its enviable reputation on the back of its sparkling wines; they even had the temerity to beat French champagnes in blind tastings.
In a way, this shouldn’t surprise us. This part of England shares the characteristic chalky soil and mild climate you’ll find across the Channel in the hinterland of Reims. Here, the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Bacchus grapes thrive.
My personal favourite of the sparkling Chapel Downs is Three Graces, named after the classic grapes for Champagne: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. But they are all worth a try! The still white wines aren’t bad, either.
Also, if you visit the vineyard near Tenterden, check out the Swan restaurant, where you can have the pleasure of practising your food and wine pairings.
But, and there’s always a but when you make wine, Chapel Down faced an obstacle to the growth and security of its business: our weather.
A plan is brewed
Even with the effects of global warming, English summers are notoriously unpredictable. As a company representative explained at an event hosted by the Globe in Military Road, the yield of the vineyards could vary year-on-year by as much as 50%.
This does not allow for sensible business planning. The answer was to reduce the company’s reliance on wines and start brewing beer.
There is a principle in marketing that if you extend your range of products, each one must contribute to – and not weaken – the brand. A principle that’s often been ignored. Not in the case of Chapel Down.
Curious Brew, a lager-style beer, is as fine a drink as its grapey cousins. Made with champagne yeast, its distinctive flavour was a big hit. What could have been a flop or distracting sideline became so successful that the company had to create a purpose-built brewery in Ashford. Never slack on the marketing front, Chapel Down now has Curious Brew signage on the platforms at Ashford Station.
New chapters in a spirited story
Not being a big cider drinker, I can’t say how Curious Apple compares to its many rivals; gin on the other hand, is more to this author’s taste.
The current explosion of gin brands shows no sign of abating. A friend of mine recently went to a gin bar above a pub near London Bridge where they claimed to serve 350 gins! So Chapel Down certainly has competition in this sector. But I’m happy to say I would put their gin in my top three. In fact, with limited space in the drinks cupboard, the only question is whether to stock the original Chapel Down gin or the newer “pink gin” made from Pinot Noir grapes, the latter belying its super-delicate colour with dangerous deliciousness.
Despite an appetite for novelty and knowledge, even I am struggling to keep up with Chapel Down’s line extensions, which include a vodka and an apple brandy.
However, as a frequent visitor to London, I can tell you about another of the company’s innovations – the recently opened Gin Works.
When I first moved to London, the Kings Cross area was famous for two things: drugs and prostitution. To say this corner of the capital has been transformed would be a gross understatement. The stunningly restored St Pancras Station has set a benchmark for repurposing Victorian splendour and Central St. Martin College of Arts and Design moving to the area has been just one factor in producing a vibrant new creative hub.
And now, the N1 postcode has another great new place to eat and drink. Chapel Down’s Gin Works overlooks the Regent Canal behind Kings Cross Station. I’m looking forward to trying the restaurant – hopefully with my archaeologist partner so she can survey the Northern railyards where she dug some years ago now.
Our pooch-owning friends should note that the Gin Works has a dog-friendly ground-floor bar. Upstairs, there is another bar and a terrace which goes on my list as an ideal venue for sipping something summery. Can’t wait.
Image Credits: Chapel Down.