Wiltshire-based importer Copestick Murray is poised to become a significant player in the booming sparkling wine market after selling a 60% stake to German fizz giant Henkell.

Henkell’s own UK distribution arm – set up two years ago – will be folded into Copestick Murray by January 1.

Business development manager Mike Ritchie MW will join Copestick Murray, which will continue to trade under its own name.

An early focus for the beefed up operation will be on Henkell’s Mionetto Prosecco brand, but Copestick Murray co-founder Robin Copestick told OLN there was plenty more within the Henkell empire for the company to go at.

“One of our weaknesses was in sparkling wine,” he said, “although we have Prosecco from Follador but Henkell has sparkling wine operations in Germany, Spain, Italy and Hungary so it’s a perfect fit for us in terms of supply. “The UK market has never really got to grips with what Germany does in sparkling wine but it’s ideal because it’s competitively priced and the right style. It’s a massive opportunity and the timing’s right with the growth in the sparkling wine category.”

Nielsen figures for the year to August 17 show sparkling wine as a £433 million category with volume growth at 10%.

Copestick said Henkell had approached the company about a possible deal at the start of the year.

“It was looking for a successful import and distribution company with good contacts in all sectors of the market and we fitted the bill.”

“Our own growth had been extraordinary – we’d doubled sales three years on the trot. But the problem was how to continue that with our credit limits with suppliers and the inflexibility of the banks. You can’t continue that rate of growth without capital behind you. We were aware we needed something.”

Copestick Murray has enjoyed big success with its I Heart wine brand which accounts for around 25% of the company’s volumes.

“One of the advantages of this deal is the opportunity to take I Heart into international markets. Henkell is represented in 90 countries and has its own distribution in 20 of them,” said Copestick.

He added that he did not expect the deal to impact on partnerships with existing Copestick Murray suppliers.