Castelnau: ‘Champagne must not rest on its laurels’

Belinda Stone, head of marketing at Castelnau Wine Agencies, has warned against the danger of the Champagne category “resting on its laurels.”

When questioned about whether Champagne’s (perceived) elitism was holding it back (in the context of engaging with younger drinkers), Stone responded: “Holding it back. Without doubt. We cannot assume that for future generations, Champagne will just sell itself, but for brands that are willing to embrace change, engage with their consumers and create reasons for them to continue to believe in Champagne, it should remain a very strong sector within a growing sparkling wine category.”

This year, the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne (SGV), which represents the region’s grower-winemakers, launched a new promotional campaign with the strap-line: ‘Réservé à Toutes les Occasions’ (Reserved for All Occasions).

Maxime Toubart, president of the SGV, said: “We just want to say that Champagne is for all the people, for all the moments, not just for ceremonial occasions – that Champagne is wonderful, and you can make an occasion wonderful by drinking Champagne.”

This attempt to reposition Champagne as an accessible drink has received support from several producers.

Christian Holthausen, export director and global communications at Champagne AR Lenoble, said: “At AR Lenoble, we never think of Champagne as elitist. We think of Champagne as a wine that should be appreciated as often as possible, like locals do here in the region.

“You don’t go to many homes in Champagne and see the wines of the region served alongside lobster since we do not produce lobster here,” he added.

Stone underlined the point that Champagne as a category was in danger of alienating younger drinkers who typically align themselves with “brands that give them a sense of freedom.”

“Champagne’s image as it is right now does not do that,” said Stone.

“There are, however, forward thinking brands like Champagne Castelnau that are making strides in the right direction and comfortably fit into that category.

“We have repositioned Champagne Castelnau aesthetically with the aim of attracting the attention of the next generation of Champagne buyers (trade and consumers) while keeping the same quality cues that our existing customers are used to.”

These sentiments struck a chord with Kate Goodman, owner of Reserve Wines in Manchester.

“Keeping the luxury/special occasion image is more likely to benefit the Grande Marques, as it has always done, to the detriment of small Champagne growers who by their nature cannot claim the marketing position to enable them to reach this luxury image status,” said Goodman.

However, Peter Mitchell MW, the wine buyer for Layton’s, the wholesale arm of London retailer Jeroboams, argued that Champagne’s elitist status was a key unique selling point.

“I think trying to position Champagne as accessible and fun would be a dangerous route to take as, owing to production costs, Champagne will always occupy a high price point compared to other traditional method rivals,” he said.

“Lose the luxury mystique and the cheaper wines from Champagne will find themselves making little sense.”

In 2018, total Champagne exports to the UK market fell, with losses in both volume and value.

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