Champagne report 2014: Seizing the initiative

Hard sell

But what about the issue of marketing: promoting what makes Champagne inimitable? This too will be key to the project, although deciding which attributes to communicate is yet to be decided. “There are times when it is not the same to have sparkling wine, and the reasons for that we need to promote: what makes Champagne different and superior, what makes it unique,” says Bonnefond.

Champagne-Feature-FindingsHawes at Menzendorff agrees, and believes Champagne should articulate its regional distinction. “Champagne doesn’t speak enough about where it is,” he says, explaining that the region should stress the fact it’s a designated area with strict quality controls. It’s a view echoed by Pol Roger managing director Laurent d’Harcourt who says, “It’s very important that we protect and promote the specificity of Champagne.” He then jokes, “And what’s specific about Champagne? We have bad soil and bad weather, which are very difficult to imitate.”

Aside from site specifics, a further differentiating aspect to Champagne is the widespread use of reserve wines, which, due to the time and investment necessary for their creation, mean they are far less commonly employed in the production of sparkling wines from outside Champagne. Furthermore, the use of reserve wines is key to the development of a house style in Champagne: the consistency of a brand’s brut NV is dependent on the blending of a base vintage with stock from previous harvests. Hawes says: “The role of reserve wines is massively important… You couldn’t say there is a consistent Bollinger NV taste without them; the wines would vary every vintage.”

Then, in terms of the Prosecco threat, it’s felt that Champagne should tell consumers about how it’s made using a secondary fermentation in the bottle. “Champagne should articulate that every bottle goes through the Champagne method; it should communicate the fact that 300 million bottles are essentially hand made,” says Hawes, adding, “Champagne has fantastic assets as a region and a generic brand… the industry should do more to communicate what makes Champagne so special.”
UMC president Barillère too stresses the need to address the issue of promoting the region’s characteristics, and says, “We want to enhance the perception of Champagne around the world, and we are just thinking which are the main points we want to communicate, and where,” before stating, “this is critical.”

The third and final aspect to Project 2030 is perhaps the most controversial and hard to control: attempting to eliminate the supply of extremely low-priced stock, above all Champagne sold sur latte to supermarkets. As Charles Phillipponnat says: “Anything that can play down vins sur lattes and the uncontrolled internal market of Champagne is a good thing.”

In essence, Project 2030, along with its aforementioned aims to raise quality and enhance marketing, wants to ensure the finite supply of grapes from the delimited appellation goes towards “enhancing the value of Champagne”. Phillipponnat asks: “Why are we selling Champagne generically when ambitious brands are lacking grapes?” He adds: “There is something wrong, the grapes are not going into the right hands.”

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