Pol Roger broke a new record for UK sales of its top label, Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, during the course of last year.
Pol Roger’s 2000 vintage release of its cuvée Sir Winston Churchill has been its most successful ever
“2013 was a very good year for Winston Churchill, and our biggest ever in the UK,” said Laurent d’Harcourt, managing director of the house since summertime last year, during a meeting with the drinks business in late January.
He ascribed the success of Pol’s most expensive cuvée, which retails for around £110 in the UK, to firstly “the quality of the wine”, which comes from the 2000 vintage.
Although he said that it was made before Pol Roger renovated its cellars, it was one of the first top end cuvées made by winemaker Dominique Petit, who was recruited from Krug in 1999 by former Pol Roger MD, Patrice Noyelle, who himself had joined the company in 1997 and had immediately set about improving the quality of Pol Roger’s Champagnes.
D’Harcourt also said that he suspected the prestige cuvée was bought by “fans of Pol Roger who had enough 2002 vintage in their cellar and came back to Winston Churchill.”
In mid-June this year, Pol Roger will launch the 2002 Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, releasing the house’s top expression from one of the greatest vintages of the last decade, and at a time when many of Pol Roger’s competitors are selling prestige cuvées from more recent, and less celebrated vintages.
As for the success of the brand’s 2000 Sir Winston Churchill, this also fits with an increased interest among UK fine wine collectors in prestige cuvée Champagne, particularly since classed growth Bordeaux has suffered price depreciation following high release prices en primeur.
Meanwhile, considering the performance of Pol Roger as a whole, d’Harcourt said that worldwide sales during 2013 were up 4% in volume and 7% in value.
“It has been a good year thanks to the great work of everybody,” he said, adding that the UK team in particular had done an excellent job: “We don’t give them much, but they sell it well,” he remarked.
To fuel future volume growth, he recorded that Pol Roger has been “bottling a little bit more in the last 2-3 years of the Brut NV so we can grow by 5% [per annum]”.
Last year the company shipped “less than 1.6 million bottles” but for the future d’Harcourt would like to see Pol Roger settle at around 1.8m, which he said was the maximum the house could reach without making major changes, such as altering its distribution network and the types of customer it supplies.
With as much as 83% of Pol Roger’s production exported, the company is less susceptible to a slowdown in the French market, which suffered a 2.3% drop in sales in 2013, down to 167m bottles from 171.4m bottles in 2012.
Nevertheless, d’Harcourt told db that Pol Roger had “grown everywhere,” including the France, where it received “very good press” in 2013.
Aside from sales increases in key export markets led by the UK, and followed by the US, d’Harcourt said that the “Australian market was doubling” but attributed the sudden growth primarily to exchange rates – a high Aussie dollar is making Champagne cheaper.
He also said that Pol had spread its business more broadly in recent years. “We used to have 4-5 key markets… but today there are 25 markets that are serious for Pol Roger.”
Unusually for a Champagne house, as much as 20% of Pol Roger’s sales are vintage Champagne, with a further 10% accounted for by blanc de blancs, rosé and its prestige cuvée, leaving the remaining 70% made up of Brut NV.
As previously reported by db, Pol Roger is beginning to print disgorgement dates for all its cuvées – not on the bottles, but on the cardboard cases used for delivering the Champagne in quantities of six.
d’Harcourt has instigated the change having previously worked for nine years for Champagne Bruno Paillard, a house that was one of the first to place disgorgement dates on each bottle’s back label, and a champion of providing such information for customers.
d’Harcourt said that the date was a “fantastic tool for our partners because it means they can use older stock first”.
However, he said that he would not put the information on bottles yet, because such information could be “confusing for people”.
“Not everyone knows the Champagne process,” he explained.