Castelnau on track to hit one million bottle target as sales rise 10%

Champagne Castelnau is on track to reach its target of one million bottles sold by 2020, according to its CEO, following a 10% rise in sales last year, which also saw a total refresh of its brand, as the brand marked the release of its second Hors Categorie prestige cuvée in Paris.

Pascal Prudhomme, CEO of Champagne Castelnau

Speaking to the drinks business in Paris last week, Pascal Prudhomme said that in 2017 Champagne Castelnau, which is owned by the Coopérative Régionale des Vins de Champagne (CRVC), sold 800,000 bottles – a 10% increase on the previous year – but stressed that 10 years ago, that figure stood at just 200,000, highlighting the dramatic increase over the past decade.

“Today the increase in volumes is mostly linked to what we are doing regarding exportation,” said Prudhomme. “The UK is important, but we know it is quite difficult for wines and Champagnes, but we are opening new countries and we are doing very interesting work in Germany, Scandinavia and Finland and a couple of states in the USA.”

In terms of value, Prudhomme said the US was only slightly ahead of the UK in that respect, highlighting its importance, “but it costs more money to go to the states and survey the market rather than London”.

“The US is very important, but a large part of this market is in the hands of well known brands,” said Prudhomme.

“Around 85% of this market is in the hands of Moet, Clicquot and so on. So it’s a very hard to try and find the best way for taking some market share in only the 15% of the market remaining for all the other brands of Champagne. We have some very interesting development in Texas, which is not the first state you would think of with Champagne, but it was the first state we worked with, and now Florida and North Carolina.”

PRESTIGE LAUNCH

Last week saw the launch of its second Hors Categorie release – a multi vintage prestige cuvée named after one of the most demanding climbs in the Tour de France, of which Castelnau is the official Champagne sponsor since 2012.

The first Hors Catégorie was released in 2016 to mark 100 years since the brand was created in 1916, with just 3,500 of the cuvée released – a blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 28% Pinot Meunier and 17% Chardonnay, selected from 15 base wines from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages.

The second release, launched in Paris last week, is named Hors Catégorie Col CCF2067 after one of the most demanding climbs of the Tour de France, which Castelnau has sponsored since 2012, and is comprised of base wines from two vintages; 2010 and 2011. The cuvée itself is made up of 45% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay.

“[At the launch] I asked people about the amount of Chardonnay in the blend and most people thought that the percentage was higher,” said Prudhomme. “People think that the quality is given by Chardonnay, but the success of the Champagne is also coming from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which is not a grape that is often well considered in a blend. Many people mostly use  Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, not Meunier. But we think that we can make a very good Champagne with the use of Meunier, and I hope that we are able to demonstrate that through Hors Catégorie.”

Elisabeth Sarcelet, Castelnau’s winemaker, also elaborated on the potential of Meunier, stating that the house had been trialling wines across the region, highlighting the potential in particular of Meunier from the Petit Montagne, which has taken well to experimentation with oak aging, bringing lightness and texture to the blend.

Base wines from the 2011 vintage make up 15% of the blend, while the 2010 component, which makes up 85%, was matured for 10 months in oak barrels – a style unique to Castelnau’s Hors Catégorie range – with the finished blend spending six years ageing on its lees.

“We wanted to try and find a way to get a very smooth, fresh and unexpected wine on palette,” said Prudhomme. “That is why we decided to work with some wines in oak barrels, which we are not using for rest of the Castelnau range.”

The new cuvée also carries a deliberately lower pressure in bottle – 5 bars compared to the more common 6 – to give a “more delicate mousse”, added Prudhomme.

Champagne Castelnau chef de cave Elizabeth Sarcelet

MILLENNIAL REBRAND 

The launch of its second Hors Catégorie cuvée is the latest step in a swathe of changes brought in by the company in the past two years in an effort to create a more modern image for the Castelnau brand.

Last year Champagne Castelnau unveiled a new minimalist look, designed to which is designed to give the house a more contemporary feel with the aim of appealing to those aged in their “30s and 40s”, said Prudhomme, and also dropped the “de” from its name, having previously been known as Champagne de Castelnau.

“Previously we were not well known and we were only known by people around the 40s or 50s and the brand was not very sexy,” admitted Prudhomme. “It was very traditional and very classic, so we decided to change that in order to open a window to incite some curiosity, particularly among older millennials.

“We also had to reinforce the interest of the merchants and the guys in the wine shops. Now we are part of a small number of brands that can be seen on shelf, so merchants are able to speak about the brand and advise customers more positively.”

BATTLE OF THE BUBBLES

When asked about the rising competition Champagne is facing from other sparkling wine brands, particularly in the UK, Prudhomme’s is confident, yet realistic about the challenges for the category.

“The competition is there and not since last year, but four five years ago,” he said. “We must be careful how young consumers are looking at new sparkling offers like Prosecco, which is a global brand with very new, sexy, modern packaging. The wines are very easy to drink and not expensive and are doing particularly well among English consumers. Champagne is losing a small part of volume share, so it must consolidate its image of luxury and of more expensive wines. We must be careful of how people in the future will consider the name of Champagne. This isn’t only a battle for Castelnau but of all the companies involved in Champagne production.”

In particular, Prudhomme is wary of deep discounting imposed upon Champagne brands as competition with other sparkling producers has increased, which he says risks pushing down the premium perception of the category.

While the Castelnau brand is only visible in the on-trade, the CRVC co-operative makes wines from grapes grown by its 775 growers, with many sold under their own labels, or as private labels for the likes of Waitrose and Marks and Spencer, which are nevertheless at the higher end of UK supermarket spectrum.

Speaking specifically of the off-trade for Champagne as a whole, Prudhomme said: “Unfortunately there is a trend for Champagne to be sold at £12-15, and this isn’t far from Prosecco. “We must be careful because it is a devaluation of the Champagne brand. How we keep the price up, I don’t know. We don’t offer Champagne to those companies, but some companies need volume.”

As for Castelnau, which hit 800,000 bottles sold last year, and is on track to meet its target of 1 million by 2020, Prudhomme believes innovation is key to the brand’s success.

“Some of our competitors are quite quiet regarding innovation – apart from some packaging they have no interest in changing anything, and that’s ok for them because they define their business based on their history and the quality,” he explained.

“We are not in that situation because we are still creating the history of our brand, which allows us to be more curious, and to be ready for innovation. We don’t have to consider that the past is the fact and we are able to think in another way, and in that situation we have to be curious and innovate and that is what will help the Castelnau brand to become significant in the future.”

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