Champagne report 2014: Seizing the initiative

Champagne faces genuine pressure from rising costs, the popularity of sparkling wines and sur latte trading but Project 2030 aims to rectify the situation by reaffirming the image and quality of the region.

ChampagneThis time last year, in the pages of our 2013 Champagne Report, we became the first drinks publication to announce a major new initiative in Champagne. Called Project 2030, it had been launched locally in December 2012, and was instigated to improve the long-term health of the region.

At that time, then president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne, Ghislain de Montgolfier, told the drinks business that the project would see the growers and houses “improve Champagne together”, having set “communal targets”. He added that they planned to “protect the image of Champagne” both by “increasing the knowledge of the product as well as the quality”. It was powerful rhetoric, but back then, Montgolfier was unwilling to be drawn on the detail of how such aims might be achieved. Now, however, one year on, and following an interview with the two leaders of Project 2030, new UMC head Jean-Marie Barillère and Pascal Férat, head of Champagne’s Syndicat Général des Vignerons, it’s clearer how the plan intends to improve Champagne for all involved in the region.

As for why it’s necessary, that too is more evident. Indeed, before considering what the initiative hopes to achieve, it’s important to ponder why Champagne has instigated such a project, and for that, one has to consider the emerging power of Champagne’s competitors: sparkling wines from outside the famous region.

Not only has the number of traditional method sparklers from around the world increased significantly in the last few years, but so too has their quality. Competitors of note come from Australia, New Zealand, the US, South Africa and South America, as well as England, and Italy, with its strictly controlled Franciacorta DOCG.

Then there’s the tank method sparkling success story that is Prosecco, which, while undoubtedly a very different product, has enticed a significant number of potential Champagne consumers in the important UK and US markets. Aware of the quality progression among its competitors, and booming Prosecco business, Champagne has decided to consider further measures to make sure its output is better than sparkling wines from other parts of the world, as well as set about communicating Champagne’s superior attributes.

Outlining the threat to Champagne is Andrew Hawes, managing director of Mentzendorff, importer of Bollinger in the UK, the largest export market for the famous brand, but also the region. In this key market for Champagne, he states: “The strongest trend is the growth in sparkling wine.” Figures reveal that in the past year volume sales of sparkling wine in the UK off-trade rose by 8%, while Champagne sales decreased by 2% (Nielsen, MAT 04.01.14) (see chart, page 6). It’s a similar story in the on-trade too: although Champagne is slightly up 2.4% in volume, sparkling wine has grown over 10% (CGA, MAT 28.12.13) (see box, page 8).

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