Bollinger: China, the most difficult market in Asia
While Asia has been contributing impressive growth to Champagne Bollinger’s exports, China, the region’s economic powerhouse, still remains “the most difficult market” in the region for the Champagne house, says its export area manager.
“The customers in China in general don’t like Champagne. They like to have Champagne at parties though. But they don’t like drinking Champagne,” commented Bastien Mariani, Bollinger’s export area manager, when speaking to dbHK at the launch of its latest 2007 vintage of ‘La Grande Année’. “Today I would say 85-90% of the Champagne consumption in the country is done at night clubs, and Bollinger is not positioned in this part of the business”
Champagne’s total exports to China in 2016 remained virtually flat in terms of volume (0.2% increase) compared to last year with 1.3 million bottles exported. Its export value dropped by 3.6% year-on-year to €20.7 million in 2016 based on figures released by the Comité Champagne.
“The awareness of Champagne is still very low. We have to educate before building the brand. I would say China is the most difficult market today, and hopefully in the coming months or years that this is going to change,” he stated, stressing that education remains key to increasing consumer knowledge of Champagne.
Adding to education, he believes that conveying the message that acidity and bubbles are the charms of Champagne instead of two intimidating factors are crucial. In the meantime, Mariani noted that at Vinexpo Hong Kong last year, more female wine drinkers from China were showing greater interest in rosé Champagne, a trend that he believes that Bollinger can capitalise on to promote its sales in mainland China.
Largely summarising Champagne’s development in new markets with the emergence of what he calls the ‘two waves’ – the first wave being nightclub sales, which aim to popularise commercial Champagne brands, and the second wave of more sophisticated Champagne appreciation – Bastien believes the second wave has arrived on the shores of China. “This is changing,” he stated. “The second wave, where houses like Bollinger are reaching out to more connoisseurs, people who love wine and Champagne to increase their awareness and appreciation, is arriving in China now.”
In other Asian markets, the Champagne house has steadily increased its sales albeit small volumes compared with other mature markets in the US or Europe. Thailand despite its hefty tax on wines (more than 300%), has made inroads in Champagne consumption, and Mariani has identified Indonesia and Vietnam as two upcoming markets in the region.
In Indonesia, Bollinger’s sales are also looking up, thanks to strong tourism consumption in Bali.
“A big proportion of tourists [in Bali] are coming from Australia. Our position in Australia is very good. Our brand awareness there is very good, so there’s a big consumption from the Australians,” he explained. This has helped in the way that Australian tourists tend to order Bollinger even when they are on vacation in Bali.
In Vietnam, Bollinger has been exporting its wines for about ten years but sales only started to pick up in the past two years after its local importer, Tankhoa, made inroads with on-trade expansion, selling its Champagnes at luxurious hotels and resorts such as Park Hyatt.
In neighbouring Myanmar opportunities also beckon for Champagne house and Bollinger found an importer there about six months ago. Champagne volumes, albeit small, in the country have increased markedly since the new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi took power two years ago in 2015, says Mariani.
Speaking of its latest 2007 vintage of ‘La Grande Année’, the latest vintage release following 2005 ‘La Grande Année’, the export manager said the wine was fermented in Burgundian oak barrels that were at least five years old and was only released after being aged for eight years in the cellar, five years longer than the required three years in Champagne for prestige cuvée.
Continuing Bollinger’s tradition of using dominant Pinot Noir in the wine, the 2007 vintage blended 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay mainly with grapes picked from Aÿ in southern Montagne de Reims and vineyards in northern part as well.
The wine is now available in Hong Kong and Macau at Jebsen Fine Wines for HK$990 (US$127). It will be launched in mainland China in June.