English wine firm Chapel Down’s new chief executive wants to grow business tenfold, writes Naomi Ackerman
Targeting as a new CEO is never easy. Finding the success of someone who’s been there for two decades takes even more pressure.
Andrew Carter finds himself in this incredible situation. He has recently taken over as the boss of Chapel Downs, England’s largest wine producer.
He will replace Fraser Thompson, who retired in September. Over more than 20 years, Thompson built an Aquis-listed producer – backed by city legend Michael Spencer – from a single winery in Tenterden, on the edge of the Kent Veld, into a company with a market cap of £85 million. on top of it.
Carter is fearless. Experts say Kent is poised to become one of the best wine-producing regions in the world and that Carter sees a lot of growth ahead.
“The approach is to change the world’s perception of the English wine forever,” he says, pointing to the vineyard outside the window of Tenterden’s The Swan restaurant. “The chance to make a wine-growing area doesn’t happen much in life – you have to go back to Marlborough [in New Zealand] Germany in the eighties, or seventies. We are building a new wine region.”
Carter, 52, was introduced to Thompson by mutual liaison, ex-FA chief and Chappell Downs chairman Martin Glenn. The father-of-three, who lives in Buckinghamshire, comes fresh to Diageo by overseeing the sale of Herefordshire gin maker Chase Distillery.
In his new role, he has gone back to basics. Carter says he’s “touching every part of the business”—including hand-picking grapes and doing night shifts.
“Since Fraser is retiring, we have a full period of handovers,” he says in his first big interview since becoming CEO. “It’s been the perfect introduction, and from a team standpoint I’ve now given them my impression of my vision, mission and roadmap for the company. I think everyone’s quite excited.”
Carter began with a five-year stint at Reckitt, but left after “several focus meetings about toilet cleaners.” He’s played senior roles in giants including Bacardi, but his passion was always alcohol, he says.
Carter adds just as the demand for fizz developed in the UK is on the rise. Chappell Down’s stupendous revenue was up more than 50% last year, despite declining worldwide Champagne sales. In October, it crossed the 1.5 million bottle mark.
Carter wants to grow the business tenfold and expand the manufacturer’s presence into bars, restaurants and hotels — a key area he thinks Chapel Downs needs to develop.
By 2026, he wants to produce about three million bottles per year.
“Really the vision for me is to become the number one, most famous English brewer. What does that mean? It means growing our business tenfold,” he says. “The total market for sparkling wine in the UK is only 200 million of bottles, the market for Champagne is 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 the hospitality – one you won’t find at Waitrose, where a classic QV goes for £27. The CEO isn’t even shy in saying he thinks Chappell Down could sell for more – a bottle of sparkling from rival NewTimber is about £8 more expensive.
Chapel Downs has 789 acres of vineyards in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Essex.
The chancellor recently announced a cut in sparkling wine rates to go into effect in 2023, and Carter plans to roll those savings back into the expansion.
One challenge is to sell your vision in the markets.
“We have a lot of great shareholders and investors, but we haven’t gone out into the world more publicly and said what our vision is and how we’re going to build out this roadmap,” Carter says.
He is confident that the eco-friendly mindset of the younger generation will help Chapel Downs grow in the long run.
“Why would you drink a bottle of Champagne imported from France when you’ve got better sparkling wine delivered to your door? That’s where the world is moving on,” says the CEO, “I certainly think Rishi Sunak understands that. It is the fastest growing agricultural industry in the UK.”
cheers to that.