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CHAMPAGNE: L-P LUNCH: Happy Birthday L-P Rosé

As the original pink fizz, Laurent-Perrier Rosé, reaches its 40th anniversary, representatives from some of the UK’s most exclusive brands celebrate this iconic product. Patrick Schmitt reports

It’s 1968. Mauritius is celebrating independence from British rule, The Beatles have launched their White Album, Enoch Powell has made his controversial Rivers of Blood speech and Laurent-Perrier has unveiled a new Champagne – a rosé. Forty years on, September 2008, and a group of figures have come together to toast the latter milestone in the extreme comfort of London’s newly refurbished Connaught Hotel. The gathering is in recognition of a distinctively packaged, hard-to-produce Champagne, as well as a luxury brand – Laurent-Perrier Rosé is now the most recognisable pink Champagne in the market and an iconic product.

Marking this anniversary is not, however, an elaborate party, but an intimate lunch for a handful of characters from a range of sectors, united in their representation of exclusive and longstanding brands.

Hence, joining David Hesketh MW, L-P’s UK managing director, and Daniel Brennan, head of marketing, were the likes of Lou McLeod, CEO of bespoke gunsmiths William & Sons; Tamara Salman, creative director for luxury fashion label Liberty of London; and Conrad Free, chairman of famed etiquette advisor, Debrett’s. Also included was Stephane Cutty, wine buyer at Selfridges, Andrew Overton, general manager of Orient-Express and Stephen Alden, CEO of the Maybourne Group – owner of The Berkeley, Claridge’s and The Connaught.

It was a meeting of the likeminded, and, as Hesketh said, referring to L-P’s 40th birthday, “a good excuse for a lunch”. For him, Laurent-Perrier Rosé has become much more than the sum of its parts, it is “a custodian of people’s memories – you can’t mention Laurent-Perrier Rosé without someone saying I had it at my engagement, wedding, or some special occasion”. Proving this point, Debrett’s chairman and lunch guest had indeed had L-P rosé at his wedding.

In essence, for Hesketh, “Laurent Perrier Rosé has gone beyond the product and into the world of luxury,” while the choice of personalities and venue is a reflection “that the world of luxury goods perceives Laurent-Perrier rosé as a peer product – it fits in their universe.”

Of course, to achieve such a positioning, the Champagne quality must be impeccable and protected. “If we are a custodian of people’s memories we have to remind them favourably – the worst thing that could happen would be if they don’t think it’s as good as it was. This is foremost in the cellar master’s mind.”


Location: Hélène Darroze at The Connaught

Head sommelier: Mathieu Gaignon

Drink: Laurent-Perrier NV Rosé

Starter: Cappuccino of “Poularde Jaune” with chestnuts, lobster, and chicken oysters

Main: Fillets of Dover Sole stuffed with cepes, cooked in the steam of lemongrass-scented bouillon, roasted cepes and shavings of fresh cepes, pink Champagne sauce

Pudding: Les fruits rouges de saison set in a delicate hibiscus jelly, coconut ice cream, marshmallow, crisp blackcurrant cannelloni

To illustrate this, Hesketh recalled requesting more rosé three years ago as demand for pink Champagne began to rapidly accelerate. Despite the legal minimum ageing requirement for a NV rosé Champagne being 18 months, the cellar master sternly responded to Hesketh’s plea: “Laurent-Perrier Rosé is kept in the cellar for four years and it always will be – there will be no compromise on quality.”

Easily forgotten today, but interesting, was the environment into which L-P Rosé was launched 40 years ago. Setting the scene surrounding its unveiling was db contributor and Champagne specialist Giles Fallowfield. Drawing on Champagne: The Wine, the Land and the People, published in 1967, he said, quoting the author, Patrick Forbes: “No wine is more difficult to make than pink Champagne.” Having considered the two ways of producing this sparkling wine style – the saignée method, which involves bleeding colour from the black grape skins, or the more common blending method, which requires a small amount of red wine, Fallowfield added, again reading from Forbes: “Both methods are fraught with problems.” For this reason, back in 1968, when L-P took the rosé plunge, and using the saignée method, not only was the style expensive, but also extremely rare. “It requires considerable commercial courage, particularly if you use the saignée method,” he said. In fact, “Firms who do make rosé seldom serve it to guests and for the houses, it is a subject best avoided,” read Fallowfield from Forbes’ book.

“It was against this background that Bernard de Nonancourt decided to make an NV brut-style rosé by the saignée method,” explained Fallowfield, illustrating Nonancourt’s brave disregard for the zeitgeist. However, this was a man, who (as recorded in db June 2008) was the first to market with a multi-vintage prestige cuvée – Grand Siècle in 1959 – as well as the first to make a brut NV with up to 50% Chardonnay in the blend (Chardonnay was 23% of the appellation area at Veuve Laurent-Perrier’s launch in 1949).

And, in 1968, when L-P Rosé was introduced, Fallowfield estimates that less than 2% of Champagne production was rosé, and that was of a total of 100 million bottles, (compared to today’s 378m). Nonancourt was once again a pioneer, and by 1980, rosé production had risen to 3m bottles, and by 1989, to 11m, 4m of which were exported.

Rosé then fell from its fashionable status in the early 90s – by 1997, it was 3% of exports, below 3m bottles – before hitting on a new era of growth, and from 1998 to 2007, rosé increased 242% to 11.2m bottles.

“Now, GB accounts for around 30% of all rosé Champagne exports,” – for L-P Rosé, it’s 50%. Why? Fallowfield suggested a number of reasons for this marked growth, in particular the image, which has altered significantly, helped by the fact rosé table wine has shed its cheap and cheerful feel, for instance, it is no longer solely associated with Mateus.

Then there are new consumers: men are happy to be seen drinking it, as are a younger crowd, who are now starting with pink wines and Champagnes. Further, although it may seem obvious, it looks different – making pink Champagne a clear stylistic statement – while Fallowfield added that the extra fruitiness in rosé helps soften Champagne’s acidity. It’s also seen as more exclusive, and it’s more expensive.

In pure volume terms another influence has been the addition of major Champagne houses joining the pink bandwagon. Fallowfield cites market-leader Moët’s surprisingly recent entry to the rosé market, and Veuve Clicquot, who added a rosé four years ago. “Moët and Clicquot have helped drive the market,” he said. In other words, the investment by these brand leaders in marketing should not be underestimated, and now almost every major Champagne house – bar Pol Roger and Louis Roederer – has added a brut NV rosé, Bollinger being one of the last with its pink Champagne launch last June.

Then there’s the product itself. Since Forbes was writing over 40 years ago “the standard of pink Champagne has improved, while global warming has led to riper harvests”, concluded Fallowfield.

As McLeod remarked, proving the widespread enjoyment of pink Champagne, “We’ve even got our gunsmiths drinking it.”


Andrew Overton, general manager, Orient-Express
“Pink Champagne is seen as more luxurious, and the likes of ladies who lunch will pre-order a bottle of rosé Champagne, while the man who works at Cazenove [stockbroker], will have a glass. There is a huge growth in knowledge and spend on Champagne – people would rather have three bottles of £50 Champagne than 10 bottles of whatever.”

Stephen Alden, CEO, Maybourne Group
“Rosé Champagne is become increasingly popular in social situations. The style has a chic element about it, and it is seen as sophisticated. And people are very confident in their choices. They enjoy the taste and the colour and they are confident in what they order.”

Conrad Free, chairman, Debrett’s
“Rosé Champagne is the ultimate luxury Champagne and when it comes to Laurent-Perrier Rosé, the colour, the style, the presentation evokes summer and there is this classic element to it. After all, I had Laurent-Perrier Rosé at my wedding.”

Lou McLeod, CEO, William & Sons
“Pink Champagne is part and parcel of luxury. I’ve been drinking Laurent-Perrier Rosé for 25 years and it is a celebratory drink that makes you feel good. For me, pink Champagne is very decadent and I think it’s life enhancing.”

Stephane Cutty, wine buyer, Selfridges
“Brut NV Champagne sales are stable or declining, the growth is definitely coming from rosé and vintage Champagne. Also, pink Champagne is not promoted like brut and therefore has a more luxury image. It is also a style on trend, and a younger crowd are more inclined to drink it. Laurent-Perrier is the pink Champagne, and despite price increases it is growing year on year.”

Tamara Salman, creative director, Liberty of London
“Pink Champagne has become very fashionable and it is very chic to drink, and Laurent-Perrier is the one. It is a brand that fits well with Liberty of London – Laurent-Perrier is a luxury brand, but it doesn’t shout about it. If you are wealthy and sophisticated, you drink Laurent-Perrier Rosé. And in the fashion world, especially in Italy, it is considered very chic to have pink Champagne.”

David Hesketh MW, UK managing director, Laurent-Perrier
“The world of luxury goods perceives Laurent-Perrier Rosé as a peer product – it fits in their universe. The Laurent-Perrier brand is about building long-term relationships in an understated way, and the people here today are those who Laurent-Perrier as a brand wants to work with as partners.”

Daniel Brennan, head of marketing, Laurent-Perrier
“Laurent-Perrier Rosé is a scarce product and we need to consider carefully which route to market we adopt. Our focus is the prestige on-trade and luxury department stores. We have worked with William Asprey, owner of William & Sons, for over a decade and see this as a quintessential luxury British brand. Liberty of London has a lot of heritage and is undergoing a contemporary revival. The Orient-Express is the epitome of luxury travel. Laurent-Perrier is proud to celebrate its 40th anniversary with these world-renown brands.”

  db © October 2008

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