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‘£7.50 Champagne distorts region’s image’

The selling of Champagne at prices below the cost of production is seriously damaging consumers’ perception of the region, a leading producer has insisted.

Charles Doyard (right), 12th-generation winemaker at Champagne Doyard, pictured with father Yannick (Photo: Champagne Doyard)

Charles Doyard, of 12th-generation Champagne Doyard, added that the rush to the bottom on price had led to a situation in which consumers could find better quality Prosecco than Champagne on supermarket shelves.

Doyard’s comments came soon after Tesco announced it would be selling Champagne at the below-cost price of just £7.46 per bottle over the Easter period.

Tesco’s Pol Aime Champagne is currently priced at £13. Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut sells for £10.99 and Asda’s Benoit Renaud Champagne Brut for £12.

“The Champagne region has of course a great reputation into the world,” said Doyard. “We have the reputation to have a wine for luxury.

“We need to stay the leader of this, and to be coherent across the whole region for the quality, and to have a minimum price.

“When you find a Champagne at this price, what are consumers going to think?” he said. “It is real Champagne or not? What will be the quality for that price and the traceability?

“It raises too many questions in the head of the consumers so they can have a trouble understanding our wine region, and we don’t want this.”

In March, the drinks business reported how Julie Campos, managing director of the Centre Vinicole Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte (CV-CNF), had described the pricing of Champagne in UK supermarkets in recent months is “suicidal” for producers.

Doyard explained that the average cost for producing Champagne is higher than the other regions of the world, observing that 1.2kg of grapes were needed to produce one 75cl bottle of Champagne.

“The price of the grape will depend on the viticulture and, of course, the location of the vineyard [but] if we take a price at €6 per kilo (lower than the average), it already makes €7.20 per bottle. Then we have many manipulations in order to produce Champagne: vinification, bottling, ageing and disgorgement, so it requires a lot of manual work.

“If you add the price of all the packaging, you can understand why it is very hard to find a bottle under €12. For example at our estate, our production cost for a non-vintage Champagne is higher than €14 per bottle.”

“So when you find a bottle under €12 it’s really strange.”

Such figures are supported by the findings of the Comité Champagne.

Doyard cited two reasons for such unprofitable prices.

First, that big négociants had difficulty selling stock, so they have to offer the wine at a big discount in order to decrease their stock; instead of keeping the Champagne and trying to sell at a higher price in the future, they sell it under a second or third name.

Second, sur latte trading: “There is a cost for that, usually around €7 or €8,” Doyard said. “The wine is bottled by the producer and after it just needs to be disgorged and labelled, so it’s also another way to find a bottle at a good price, but of course, the quality is not the ultimate goal.

“Those reasons are a problem for all the producers and also the consumers, because we try to make a great job at each step of the process to get the best quality possible, and to be transparent with all our customers.

“When you find such [cheap] bottles it’s very difficult to know from which négociant or producer it comes from. So of course you have a good price, but as I said before, it’s not a good thing for the value of the Champagne region. 

The estate

A recoltant-manipulant Champagne producer for four generations and a grower for 12, Champagne Doyard has had a makeover and since 2006 has been dedicated to producing quality artisan wines with long maturation.

The house works on 11ha of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards – 10ha in Chardonnay, one in Pinot Noir. The main village is Vertus with around 5ha of Chardonnay in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize, Cramant. The Pinot Noir is grown in Aÿ.

Half of the estate is worked organically, the rest being worked according to lutte raisonée principles.

Six wines – two non-vintage – Cuvée Vendémmiare Brut Premier Cru; Cuvée Vendémmiare Extra Brut Premier Cru – plus La Libertine (also NV, doux, 60g/l dosage – highest dosage in Champagne); Clos de L’Abbaye vintage (60yo, organic, non-cert); Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru vintage; Oeil de Perdrix vintage rosé; plus a Ratafia.

In 2006 Doyard produced 10,000 bottles; now it produces 40,000 bottles and is looking to expand it’s export reach.

Charles Doyard also said that the house intends to make a Coteaux Champenois still wine from the 2015 vintage using grapes from one of my oldest, low-yielding vineyards in Vertus. Probably aged for 18 months in oak.

Around 70-75% of Champagne Doyard’s production is reserved for export. The house’s principal export market by far is the US; however a distribution deal signed with Matthew Clark in November, is expected to boost sales in the UK. Charles Doyard said that other target markets included the Czech Republic and China.

Doyard, who in April joined a group of 16 other domaine Champagne producers – Les Artisans du Champagne – to present their wines at the sixth annual Printemps des Champagnes tasting in Reims, insisted that only by maintaining a could the quality proposition of Champagne be assured.

“We want to sell a mature wine and [ultimately] I think we can recognise the style and the quality in the glass,” he said.

“It’s a different philosophy, because of course we can control everything – our own grapes, so we do what we want, because we make wine in the vineyard, so you really need good grapes and the difference is that.

“For us we have all our time just on the quality. We make what we like: we are not going to adapt our wines for a special market or special taste.”

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