UPDATE 1-UK lawmaker splashes out on English sparkling wine
* Lord Ashcroft bets on growth of burgeoning niche sector
* Climate change could help English bubbly
(Recasts lead, adds detail, background)
LONDON, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Controversial former Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft on Wednesday uncorked plans to tap into Britain's burgeoning sparkling wine industry.
The multi-millionaire member of Britain's upper house of parliament aims to produce 400,000 bottles a year from vineyards in southern England, where growers have earned a reputation for high quality fizz on a par with French Champagne.
Ashcroft's AIM-listed shell company Shellproof Limited
said it was looking to acquire 150 acres of vineyards and to build its own winery towards the end of 2014.
Ashcroft, who has close ties to Belize in central America and has been a longtime donor to the Conservative Party, was embroiled in recent years in a row about his fiscal status as it was revealed he was not a full UK tax payer when he joined the House of Lords in 2000.
English bubbly, at 1.4 million bottles, accounts for only around 1 percent of sales of sparkling wine in Britain but is proving increasingly popular with cash-strapped Britons.
Demand was boosted by Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics, according to supermarkets Tesco
and Sainsbury , which retail bottles between 10 and 30 pounds ($23-$46).
French Champagne can fetch more than 40 pounds ($64) a bottle. ($1 = 0.6251 British pounds)
(Reporting by Natalie Huet; Editing by David Cowell)
Keywords: BRITAIN BUBBLY/