The Comité Champagne’s London tasting gets new name and novel venue
Following news broken by db this week that the Comité Champagne is to reinstate its London tasting, we can now reveal that the event has a new name and content, and it will be held in a novel venue.
Having met yesterday with the director of the UK Champagne Bureau, Françoise Peretti, db is able to confirm that event, which is planned for 29 March – and was formerly called the Annual Champagne Tasting – has been rebranded as The Official #Champagne Experience Day.
Furthermore, the refreshed event, which was housed at Westminster’s One Great George Street for the past two years, and before that, Whitehall’s Banqueting House, is moving to a very different venue for this 2017: art and design college Central Saint Martins in King’s Cross.
The location in particular signals a fresh spirit for the day’s event, because Central Saint Martins is a modern venue in an up-and-coming area of London – King’s Cross has undergone extensive redevelopment since St Pancras train station was restored and became the new home for the Eurostar.
In contrast, the Annual Tasting was previously held in a series of traditional settings within the political centre of the capital: both the Banqueting House and One Great George Street are a short walk from the Houses of Parliament.
Discussing the new venue, Peretti said that she had chosen Central Saint Martins both because it was so close to the Eurostar terminal, making it easy for the visiting Champenois, but also because it is located in “a vibrant and happening place”.
It is also an original setting, with Peretti pointing out that there has never before been a wine tasting held at Central Saint Martins.
“With Champagne, we are always trying to do something new,” she said.
Crucially, the venue has “very good natural light” with a “massive” space covering more than 800m2. She described the place as mixing “contemporary” architecture with “a feeling of heritage” due to the history of the building – although the campus was completed in 2011, it is constructed within and around a Victorian granary.
“It ticks lots of boxes,” she summed up, adding that she was lucky to be able to use the space – the tasting will be held on a date that coincides with a holiday period for students of the design school, which is part of University of the Arts London.
As for the content of the newly-rebranded event, Peretti said that the Comité Champagne would be introducing three tutored masterclasses to run alongside the tasting, and would be expanding the themed central tasting table to reflect the major stylistic trends of Champagne.
So, for 2017, a free-pour tasting area will increase to cover three types of Champagne, with vintage and rosé both confirmed, although the third theme is yet to be decided.
Central to the event, like previous Comité Champagne tastings in London, will be tables for the major brands to showcase their latest releases, with Peretti pointing out that when she first launched the UK’s Annual Champagne Tasting 20 years ago, these tables numbered 25, but last year totalled more than 60.
Although the event will last a full day, she added that the Comité Champagne would not be providing lunch, saying that there were several restaurants and cafés in and around the venue.
In terms of target audience, Peretti said that the day would be designed to attract buyers from the off- and on-trade, as well as media from trade and consumer press, along with those from both digital and printed publications.
According to Peretti, a particular focus this year will be writers from lifestyle, travel and environmental media following the acceleration in wine tourism and sustainable viticulture in Champagne prompted by the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing for the region, which was achieved in July 2015.
She also announced that the Comité Champagne was planning a “stand alone” event specifically for wine educators, which she said was necessary to meet their particular needs.
Speaking to db generally about the nature of this year’s major Champagne event for the UK trade, Peretti said that “the spirit is very different, the content is much richer, and we are looking at how we can use technology to communicate information beyond the venue.”
When asked about the cost of the revamped tasting, she admitted that the budget was “bigger”, adding that the decision by the Comité Champagne to invest more in the annual event proves the region’s commitment to the UK market, despite the announcement by db last month that Champagne had shipped 3 million fewer bottles to Britain in 2016 compared to 2015.
In July 2016, db broke news that The Comité Champagne would not be staging a tasting in London in 2017, after over 20 years hosting an event in the capital.
Shortly after the story appeared on thedrinksbusiness.com, several senior members of the UK trade contacted db to express their dismay at the decision, including chairman of the UK Champagne Agents Association, Andrew Hawes, who urged the Comité Champagne to reconsider its decision to cancel the London event.
Although Peretti told db yesterday that the Comité’s support for Britain is “constant”, she added that the response from the UK wine trade to db’s announcement in July last year showed that there is “tremendous commitment” for the event.
As a result, she said, “So why go against it; why not embrace it?”
However, she stressed that the annual tasting was already under review because the Comité Champagne was aware that the UK “needed a different type of event with richer content.”
Reacting to the news on Wednesday this week that the Comité Champagne’s Annual Tasting in London will be reinstated, Andrew Hawes told db that he was pleased with the decision, adding that it was vital London remained a global shop window for Champagne.
“Following fruitful and constructive discussions with the Comité Champagne, I am very pleased that they have decided to reinstate the Annual Champagne Tasting in London,” he said.
Continuing, he remarked, “It is extremely important that Champagne remains active in its largest export market, where increasing competition is being seen from alternative sparkling wines, and that the industry benefits from the status of London as a global shop window for ‘brand Champagne’.”
A summary of the changes planned for this year’s Champagne tasting can be seen below:
• The Annual Champagne Tasting has been rebranded as The Official #Champagne Experience Day.
• While it will retain its slot in the month of March, it will be held on 29 March – around two weeks later than its usual timing.
• The Official #Champagne Experience Day will be held at art and design college Central Saint Martins in King’s Cross.
• The event will keep the individual brand tables, but will introduce three themed central tables reflecting the key styles of Champagne in growth, including vintage and rosé.
• The revamped tasting will include more content, such as three tutored Champagne masterclasses, with space for up to 40 attendees at each one.
• The Comité Champagne is planning a standalone event to address the specific needs of wine educators.