The Castel Group, France's leading wine producer, is to open the first phase of its new bottling plant, which the company claims will be Europe's biggest, next month.

"The total investment in the site now comes to EUR35m (US$54.5m)," said Castel spokesperson Frank Crouzet, adding it would specialise in bottling wines from the Loire region of France.

The plant, in Nantes, has a total capacity of 200m bottles and will be fully operational by January.

Castel acquired the plant site last year when it bought Sautejeau-Beauquin, a major Loire wine producer. At the time Crouzet said Loire wines correspond to evolving consumer tastes being good value, low in alcohol and easy to drink.

The Castel group's wine division turned over EUR1.01bn in 2007.