Better climate conditions, along with low interest rates, are boosting the production of vintage Champagne, according to Bruno Paillard.
Speaking to the drinks business at last week’s London launch of Champagne Bruno Paillard’s 2008 ‘Assemblage’, the owner of the house, and chairman of Lanson-BCC, said that the supply of vintage Champagne was on the rise – a trend that benefits the upmarket image of the region as it encourages more consumers to treat the French fizz like a fine wine.
Currently, he recorded that the vintage Champagne category represented less than 10% of global Champagne sales, which he stated, “is a pity, because when you jump to vintage you are closer to greater wines.”
However, looking ahead, Paillard said that he would expect a growth in the vintage category due to increasing supply – a result of better climate conditions – and lower interest rates, which helps reduce the costs of retaining stocks: by law, vintage Champagne must be aged on its lees for a minimum of three years, compared to 15 months for non-vintage.
Champagne Bruno Paillard 2008 ‘Assemblage’
“Setting aside the whys, so far global warming is more positive than negative for Champagne, so we can accept the idea that people are going to produce more vintage Champagne now because there are more occasions to produce it,” he said.
But he also said that low interest rates were helping as they “encourage people to hold stock – in Champagne, you are ageing a raw material that is extremely expensive, we have the most expensive grapes in the world, and if you had both expensive grapes and high interest rates, then it would be a different story.”
In the 90s, for example, interest rates were over 10%, but today, they are between 1 and 2%, recorded Paillard.
On the other hand, grape prices have hit a new high, ranging from €5.30 to almost €7 per kilo for bunches from grands crus vineyards, although the average price increase from the latest harvest has been minimal: between 0.5-1%, just above inflation, which was 0.3% over the course of 2015 in France.
The combination of a warming climate and low interest rates have boosted the creation of vintage Champagne, which, stressed Paillard, “is a good thing for Champagne lovers, because it has made vintage Champagne more affordable.”
Legally, producers can declare a vintage Champagne every year, but in practice, they tend to only release a vintage expression from “more mature, richer years”, according to Paillard.
Champagne has had an unusually good run of vintages in the noughties, with the majority of producers releasing a vintage expression in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and, just emerging onto the market, 2008. And it is the 2008 and 2002 releases that are widely deemed the best vintages of the last decade.
In contrast, wines from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 are unlikely to yield so many vintage releases, due to more challenging weather conditions, although 2012 was a very good year.
For some in the region, the poorer 2009-2011 climate conditions may benefit the image of vintage Champagne, as some believe that the recent run of consecutive vintage releases risks cheapening the concept.
For example, commenting late last year, Hadrien Mouflard, managing director of Ayala told db, “You need to send out a clear message – vintage Champagne and prestige cuvées should be special, not released every year. It devalues the concept to release every year.”
Furthermore, he forecast, “People will come back to three to four releases a decade.”
As for Champagne Bruno Paillard’s latest release, the wine is a blend of 42% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir and 16% of Meunier from the 2008 vintage under the Assemblage label. (The maison’s top vintage expression is called Nec Plus Ultra, and spends around 12 years maturing before release).
Every release of the Assemblage expression features a different design from an artist selected by Paillard, and for the 2008 he has chosen the Korean artist, Bang Hai Ja, who was commissioned to work with the theme: ‘Energy’, which Paillard believes best sums up the character of the 2008 wines.