Balfour Winery co-founder Richard Balfour-Lynn is planning to create a boutique wine hotel in the Archbishop's Palace in Maidstone, Kent.
Balfour-Lynn has won a six-month contract to develop the plans with Maidstone Borough Council. He was previously chief executive of MWB Group Holdings, the parent company of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin.
The vision is to create a boutique hotel with restaurants and bars as well as wedding and conference facilities. In the Palace itself will be a wine and viticultural educational centre.
The development will be centred around English wine and spirits with a focus on Kent-based producers and locally sourced food. The Palace will remain open to the public.
Balfour Winery on the Hush Heath Estate in Staplehurst is part of a group known as the Wine Garden of England, a partnership of the eight major wineries in Kent that was formed to promote the growing wine tourism sector.
The group intends to create a wine tourist map of equal international standing to other destinations such as Napa Valley in California, Margaret River in Australia and the Champagne region in France.
The 12th century Archbishop's Palace has extensive gardens and outbuildings and the plan is to create three new buildings for luxury bedrooms in the grounds overlooking the River Medway and the River Len.
Balfour-Lynn said: "The Archbishop's Palace will become both the champion and beating heart of Kent wines, spirits and local food produce. Part of our plans will be to run tutored wine tastings as well as wine making and viticultural courses from the venue with the Palace becoming the centre of the Kent wine tourist sector, attracting visitors from London and further afield. Authenticity will lie at the heart of the offer."
Balfour Winery was established in 2002 by Balfour-Lynn and his wife Leslie. As well as a range of wines and artisan beers and ciders, the group has a growing estate of London pubs and inns under the Balfour brand.
On top of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin, MWB Group Holdings was also the parent company of the De Vere Group, Village Hotels and London department store Liberty.
MWB Group moved into hotels in 2002 when it teamed up with Rezidor SAS Hospitality to buy the Malmaison chain of boutique hotels for £77m and two years later snapped up the Hotel du Vin group from Robin Hutson and Gerard Bassett for £66.4m. Balfour-Lynn resigned from his role as chief executive in 2012, 30 years after founding the company.
MWB Group later fell into administration and put the Malmaison and Hotel du Vin hotels up for sale, which were acquired by KSL the following year. The brands are now owned by Frasers Hospitality.
Photo: Chris Mansfield