It was announced this morning that English sparkling wine producer Gusbourne Estate is to be bought by Shellproof, the English wine company established by Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft.
Gusbourne was launched on the market in 2010 and has become a prominent and successful brand, selling in restaurants such as The Fat Duck and stalwart London vintners Berry Bros. It may also be familiar to regular JancisRobinson.com readers as the subject of the vineyard diary series A Year In the Vines, published here between 2008 and 2009.
This latest development is a reverse takeover, meaning that Shellproof will acquire Gusbourne and take its name, becoming Gusbourne PLC. Andrew Weeber, who established Gusbourne in 2004, will remain in overall charge as non-executive chairman.
With this move, Gusbourne jumps from 50 acres (20 ha) of its own Kentish vines to over 100, thanks to Shellproof's West Sussex plantings. With further plantings planned imminently, a total of 205 acres (83 ha) is being aimed for, with a top production capacity forecast to be 500,000 bottles annually.
Such a development is a significant consolidation for the still nascent English sparkling wine industry. For some, the rapid growth in new producers over the past five years has become a cause for concern, with uncertainty as to whether the market can sustain large volumes of English sparkling wine. This takeover is likely to foreshadow several more in the coming years, as the industry matures.
For Gusbourne itself, the partnership represents a significant financial boost, thanks to Lord Ashcroft's business fortune, which places him comfortably within the top 50 wealthiest people in Britain. A long-anticipated winery for which planning permission has already been granted will now be built at Gusbourne, and new vineyards on the estate will be established.
With such rapid expansion, it will be imperative to ensure that quality remains paramount. Gusbourne has for some years described itself as proudly Kentish, and Weeber says that the final destiny of the Sussex-grown fruit will only be decided once it has been vinified.
Furthermore, Gusbourne has for the last four years been made at Ridgeview, under the direction of winemaker Charlie Holland, who left to join Shellproof earlier this year. Using newly installed winemaking facilities at Gusbourne for the imminent 2013 harvest, and with an anticipated 180 tonnes of grapes to process, the pressure will be on him to maintain the critical acclaim they have earned so far.
It is a challenge the whole team at Gusbourne PLC will no doubt relish.