Top 10 defining drinks trends of this century so far

8. Tougher than the rest: Champagne

Few, if any, luxury products are as resilient as Champagne, and the product’s appeal has certainly been tested since db started. At the time of our launch in 2002, Champagne was only just recovering from the millennium hangover – when demand for fizz for turn of the century partying fell way short of Champagne producers’ expectations, leaving them with great stocks of unsold bottles. But bringing demand back in line with supply had involved plenty of heavy discounting by big supermarket groups in the UK and Europe, eroding Champagne’s upmarket positioning. The region had also been fending off accusations of poor viticultural practices, having spent years spreading decomposed food waste from Paris rubbish collections onto its vineyards. This is a perfectly sensible solution to fertilise the soil, but unfortunately the organic matter was mixed with other rubbish, particularly bits of blue plastic, the colour of the city’s refuse sacks, which are still visible today if you look closely at Champagne’s soils. Such bright polymers are much harder to see in this decade because the region has been aggressive about adopting sustainable practices, particularly grass cover in the vineyards. It has also been a leader in the use of sexual-confusion techniques to deter grapevine moths laying eggs in the vineyards – a solution employing pheromone diffusion that does away with the need to spread pesticides.

But while Champagne overcame overstocking in its key markets, then clawed its way up to a new record of shipping almost 340 million bottles in 2007, it was then dealt a heavy blow with the global financial crisis, pushing it below the 300 million mark by 2009. The negative impact of austerity measures from this time was then mixed with the rise in popularity of cheaper, sweeter Prosecco, meaning Champagne would see its mettle tested in its mature markets, above all the UK.

But Champagne has bounced back as a fitter, stronger and better product. Sales are more balanced than ever before with, by the end of 2017, as many as 30 markets each consuming more than 500,000 bottles annually. Producers have responded to declines in Europe by building new – and often more profitable – sources of consumption in emerging markets, along with the US.

Partly as a result of a fall-off in demand from 2008, the quality of Champagne has risen. Yields have been more restricted, and ageing times increased, making for a richer, more complex style of fizz – a trend confirmed by the improving quality of results in our Champagne Masters – a unique Champagne-only tasting competition held by db annually since 2011. Climate change has also been kind, with a run of magnificent vintages in this millennium, starting with the critically acclaimed 2002 harvest, which also marked Champagne’s status as not only a celebratory fizz, but a collectible fine wine – a move driven by merchants in the UK looking for things to promote other than Bordeaux. Whereas Champagne at the start of this century was a product almost entirely consumed in Europe, and at risk of commoditisation at the hands of the supermarkets in the UK and France, today it may be a smaller volume player – hovering around the 300m mark – but it is a more profitable branded product, with a much more even global footprint, and a better product mix. It’s been quite a journey, but the outcome has proved this product’s remarkable resilience. Mind you, in the previous century it had survived two world wars, the oil crisis of the ’70s, and severe recessions of the early ’80s then the early ’90s.
Since we launched our inaugural Champagne report in 2003, we have produced the most comprehensive single annual publication on the state of Champagne, supplemented by our almost daily reporting on developments in the region on our website.

Toast: Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve (Master medal-winner, Champagne Masters)

One Response to “Top 10 defining drinks trends of this century so far”

  1. Greg Fischer says:

    With green drinks in mind – The most sustainable wine on Earth is Mead. Craft Mead has developed not to be that off tasting syrupy overly sweet wine. With the different varietals of honey we are seeing craft meadmakers make fine mead both dry and sweet. Our Meadery Wild Blossom in Chicago produces the most locally wine made in the city.

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