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Champagne Bureau UK announces major shake-up for London tasting

Following a number of changes to last year’s Comité Champagne tasting in London, the drinks business can reveal that this year’s event will get a new name; take place at a later date; occupy a different venue, and allow entry to both trade and consumers.

Kensington Olympia’s Grand Hall is home to the London Wine Fair in May

Now called Champagne Live, the annual tasting will be housed in two neighbouring rooms at Kensington Olympia on May 22, and will be hosted in association with the London Wine Fair, which takes place from 21-23 May, and fills the Olympia Grand Hall.

Speaking exclusively to db yesterday, director of the Champagne Bureau UK, Françoise Peretti said that the changes were designed to maximize the reach and content of the annual tasting, and did not reflect a reduction in the budget set aside for promoting Champagne in the UK.

“Rather than chase the biggest and most expensive venue, which we are all tempted to do, we thought long and hard and decided to focus on content that would be of interest and help to the trade and consumers,” she told db.

As part of this endeavour, the rebranded event will feature live streaming from Champagne, connecting attendees at the London tasting with Champagne experts in the region.

Champagne Live will also contain a number of masterclasses exploring topical themes, although Peretti said that the subjects were yet to be decided.

Last year’s Champagne tasting in London was held at art and design college Central Saint Martins in King’s Cross on 29 March

Significantly, the traditional format of the Comité Champagne tasting will be abandoned, with Champagne Live containing three “themed” tasting areas, while doing away with branded tables for each producer supporting the event.

“The brief is a Champagne journey with themed tables and no individual tables per brand,” she said.

Nevertheless, she insisted that representatives from Champagne would be attending.

“We know that the Champenois will come because it’s a crucial feature; they will come with their brands,” she said.

As for the association with the London Wine Fair, Peretti said that holding the annual Champagne tasting in May at the UK’s only national wine exhibition would benefit both organisations.

“It is a novel concept for the London Wine Fair, and it does tick a lot of boxes for us,” she began.

“It is a good opportunity because the trade is already there, so it ticks that box, and it ticks the box of being able to live-stream, and for me, one of the big boxes, which it ticks, is going back to doing what we do best, which is the wine and the region talking for themselves, rather than channeling funds into a venue,” she added.

She later added, “There are many advantages of running the event during the fair: number one the Champenois are coming so we are saving them some travel, and secondly the trade goes to the fair.”

She also assured db that “the budget is the same, but it is a way of maximsing the budget of the event by putting more effort and funding into content.”

Champagne Live will occupy two self-contained spaces on the mezzanine level of Kensington Olympia called the Gallery Suite and the Dark Room, which can be entered from within the London Wine Fair, as well as via a separate outside entrance.

Although the space for Champagne Live is half the size of the Banqueting Hall, the historic home of the Comité Champagne’s annual tasting, Peretti said, “Because the design is different and the concept is different – I am confident that it will deliver on content and tasting.”

The wine trade and media will be invited to attend Champagne Live from 10am to 4.30pm on 22 May, and, for the first time ever, the Champagne Bureau UK will then open the doors of its tasting to consumers.

From 6-9pm the themed tables will become individual brand spaces, giving exhibitors the opportunity to showcase up to five different Champagne styles to the public.

Peretti said that she would have access to the consumer database of the London Wine Fair organiser Brintex, and hence stated, “We know we can attract Champagne lovers.”

As for the new timing for the Champagne tasting, Peretti said that moving the event from its traditional slot in March to May was not a compromise.

“The timing in March was chosen over 20 years ago because it was a time when there were not too many events and tastings in London, and 20 years later it is a very different story.

“For us in a way May works better because we will have statistics [on Champagne shipments] which will be announced at ProWein in mid-March and it is nice to have something in May when the sun shining – it means we can have live links from sunny vineyards.”

When asked whether she was concerned that the trade may be too busy with meetings at the London Wine Fair to visit Champagne Live, she said that she believed attending both would not be a problem.

“I trust the UK trade to be able to taste Champagne and conduct additional business, and bringing a one-day event to a place where the trade is coming to anyway is something that should be welcomed because the move is making life easier for a trade that is already incredibly busy with events.”

Although Champagne Live will be a different design and concept, Peretti said that she was “confident” that the tasting would attract the same number of brands and visiting Champenois.

As db was the first to report last year, the 2017 Champagne tasting in London was subject to significant changes, taking on a new name and occupying a novel venue, while taking place at a slightly later date.

Called The Official #Champagne Experience Day, the refreshed event – which was housed at Westminster’s One Great George Street in 2015 and 2016, and before that, Whitehall’s Banqueting House – moved to art and design college Central Saint Martins in King’s Cross, and was held on 29 March.

With yet more change this year, Peretti described last year’s altered event as “a transition year” after 20 years as “the Annual Champagne Tasting”.

“Champagne Live is the second step in the evolution of the event and I would like us to be committed to the concept; the notion of bringing the Champagne experience to London.”

Finally, she told db that the changes this year had been made with the full agreement of the Champagne Agents Association in the UK.

A summary of the changes for this year’s Champagne tasting:

  • Following the rebranding of The Annual Champagne Tasting to The Official #Champagne Experience Day in 2017, this year’s event will now be called Champagne Live.
  • It will abandon its traditional slot in the month of March, and will be held on Tuesday 22 May.
  • Champagne Live will be held in association with the London Wine Fair which runs from 21-23 May.
  • As a result it will be held at Kensington Olympia, and will occupy two rooms on the mezzanine level of the exhibition space.
  • The event will no longer contain individual brand tables, but will introduce themed tastings tables reflecting the key styles of Champagne.
  • The revamped tasting will include more content, and the masterclasses will be expanded to accommodate a larger audience,
  • Champagne Live will be open to the trade from 10am to 4.30pm and from 6-9pm for consumers, when the themed tables will evolve into individual brand spaces, giving exhibitors the opportunity to showcase up to 5 different Champagne styles to the public.

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