The harvest in the Champagne Region began on 15 September this year. It was a challenging year. In late April, frosts hit almost a quarter of the Champagne appellation
area and the buds were completely destroyed across 14% of the vineyards.Throughout the spring rain, hail showers and storms were of biblical proportions and in some areas rainfall was to two to three times higher than the average recorded for the past 20 years. There then
followed a period of intense heat and some of the south facing areas suffered scalding of the fruit. All of this means fruit yields will be markedly lower. Shortfalls in volume will be made up by using vin clair from previous years. Perversely the wines could be more powerful and age better.
In Bouzy, in the third week of September the Plener family started with their crop of Bouzy Rouge vines and then moved on to their parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Jean Francois is pleased with the Chardonnay grapes and is seen here (above) accompanying them on the way to the pressoir. His daughter Maud is in the centre of the picture to the left. She runs the team of 30 pickers whose services have been used for the last thirty years.
At the invitation of G & T weekends, William and Lydia spent a day or two checking out the Loire Valley before heading off to Poitiers to run a champagne tasting in a chateau. It might seem to be a case of taking coals to Newcastle doing this sort of thing in France but the offer to showcase our grower champagnes to the clients of gandtweekends was simply too good an entrée to miss. G&T Weekends always ensure that the Saturday night is fast, frantic and full, so the chance to reinvigorate the guests’ spirits on a calm Sunday afternoon with several glasses of intriguing champagne was a brilliant plan. The setting was outstandingly impressive and simply spectacular. A fairy tale chateau basking in the early Spring sunshine. The interior rooms were grand and gracious.
The guests embraced the gallic spirit of the afternoon by dressing up in classic French costumes. Marie Antoinnette, Porthous, Athos and Aramis along with the barmaid from ‘Allo Allo’ were all there.
We are well versed at explaining why and how grower champagnes are in fact as good as, if not better and are almost certainly cheaper than the mainstream big names from the industry. We captured the audience with a precis of the fundamentals of champagne production that are behind the unique taste of our products. There is a balance to be struck with any audience. You need to be able to explain how grower champagnes are unique to a patch of land without without being nerdy. You need to be able to describe the David and Goliath scenario of Grower vs Les Grandes Maisons without sounding like a proselytising anti-globalisation activist. The great advantage is that although you may have a room of people new to the idea of grower champagne to start with by the time they are are on their third or fourth glass they are won over the the distinctive and interesting flavours and aromas on offer.
All went well and there at least twenty or so converts to the cause of championing small family enterprises with a history of making outstanding products from their own land. We hope to work with G & T weekends again in the future.
There are many views on Rosé, not all of them positive. While the opinions of wine snobs can be valid, it’s important that you experiment and don’t get confounded by supposed established rules. Quite often they’re not based on much.
In this vein I always tell people to experiment and find what they like and not to feel embarrassed about it. Rosé Champagne is a classic example of this.
Most waiters and restaurants will tell you that customers drinking Rosé Champagne will probably only have a single glass as it’s considered ‘a fun aperitif’ – something to sip and enjoy before the serious business gets started.
But I suggest you ditch that approach – there’s no real reason why you can’t have Rosé Champagne with the whole meal – or as your main drink for the evening – and there are a number of valid reasons for doing so.
All Champagne types (including Rosé) are a great accompaniment to duck and game as it cuts through and emolliates the oiliness of the meat. Likewise Rosé is a great accompaniment to Lobster (if you’re really pushing the boat out) but also other types of seafood work very well.
Rosé Champagne, with its fresh fruity flavours, is the perfect candidate to be matched with desserts. As evidence of this there are, for me, few more delightful dining experiences than a raspberry pannacotta with mascarpone (with fresh raspberries of course) alongside a flute of Rosé Champagne. It’s enough to transport you from the depths of gloomy February to a summer zenith of sunshine and laughter.
Finally, you can even match Rosé with cheese, soft goat’s cheese to be precise. It works wonders and I heartily recommend you try it.
One thing to point out – don’t over chill your Rosé. I can’t stress this enough. It is best served at 10 to 12 C. If you serve it ice cold you won’t be able to enjoy the full range of available flavours and tastes.
So don’t be cowed by the snobs – don’t let them rain on your parade – have a try and see how it goes. Rosé champagne can and should be considered more than ‘a one glass drink’ – it certainly deserves more.
If you get any funny looks or comments feel free to point them in my direction…
Happy Rosé drinking everyone.
Once the harvest has been safely gathered in, the presses have stopped pressing and the vats are full of fermented still wine (no bubbles yet and known as Vin Clair), what goes on in Champagne? One major task is to decide the composition of the coming year’s Champagne – next years ‘cuvée’.
We took a trip over to Champagne a few weeks back and paid a visit to the three grower champagne families that we represent. Maud Plener, owner of Jean Plener et Fils in Bouzy, explained
how even with just three champagnes; Brut, Réserve, and Rosé, she has a complicated task ahead of her.
With two varietals (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and having vins clairs for 2013, 2014, and 2015, Maud has to decide what proportions of which vins clairs are to be used in their future champagne
blends. Some of the many factors to be borne in mind include taste, colour, experience, demand and storage space.
Jean Plener’s operation is towards the small end of the scale in reality. A Chef de Cave at a major champagne house may have as many as 80 different sources of vins clairs. Spread over say
three years means that they will have 240 options before even deciding what proportions to use. A demanding and complex job and they certainly earn their money.
One question on our minds when visiting our producers was their opinion on the 2015 harvest. There was a prolonged period in the middle of the growing season without rain. Some even called
it a drought. The opinion amongst our producers surprisingly differed. While all agreed that it had been a good year, some went a lot further in their praise of this year’s
In Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims area Champagne, Maude Plener noted that the lack of water at times meant that the vines were stressed, manifesting itself in uneven ripening. Her experience in Bouzy was that within the same plot there were areas where the fruit was ready whilst some was not. Overall in her view it was good despite the rain during the harvest itself and that the declaration of a vintage is unlikely
On the other hand, over in Le Mesnil sur Oger on the Côte deb Blancs, Patrice Pertois (owner of Bernard Pertois Champagne) declared that 2015 had been a superb harvest, surpassing all their hopes
and joining other notable years such as 1947, 1959, and 1976. He notes that their Chardonnay musts are well balanced in terms of acidity and sugar and after fermentation the vins clairs are well
structured. His amazement is even greater since they received only 60mm of rain in four months.
Our recent trip was a whistle stop tour through Champagne giving us a great insight into how the year has gone in Champagne. As we start to look forward to the Christmas and New Year festivities maybe its time to give a bit of thought to what Champagne we plan on enjoying with friends and family? It’s a difficult choice here at Moore Champagne because all three families’ champagnes are great but I know what I will be choosing – Jean Plener’s fantastic Rosé and Bernard Pertois’ brilliant Réserve. Both available on our website at a great price.
The Champagne region has a habit of keeping some of its best kept secrets to only a lucky few fortunate enough to be ‘in the know’. Travelling around, every now and then you come across
a small Champagne producer up to something really special. Based in the aptly named village of Bouzy, Jean Plener et Fils is one such Champagne producer, a producer who we were amazed
that so few other people had either heard about or enjoyed.
The Grand Cru village of Bouzy sits at the foot of the South facing slopes of the Montagne de Reims region of Champagne. Elevated above the river Marne and just a ten minute drive from Epernay, Bouzy is famed for its Pinot Noir grapes. It's South facing slopes, chalky soil and sunny disposition providing ideal conditions
Jean-François has a few years before retiring so is busy passing on all his skills and know-how to his daughter. Together their philosophy s very simple: making sure that every
bottle they produce is the best bottle it can be. A straight forward philosophy that means there is no place for compromise: in their own words “no premium blend, no basic blend : but a
Plener blend, the best of our art”.
Jean Plener’s Cuvée Brut ages for at least 3 years on the lees in their cellar while the Cuvée Réservée stays with them for a minimum of 4 years. Their blend is the same: 70% Grand Cru Pinot Noir and 30% Grand Cru Chardonnay. Delicate and smooth aromas of peach and apricot are typical of Jean Plener’s Champagne, with additional aging adding a bouquet of brioche and almond. Their Rosé is a little different. Comprising 85% of their standard Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend together with 15% of their own Bouzy Rouge Pinot Noir wine, its an exciting mix of strawberry, grapefruit almond and nuts.
Maud is keen to get more people tasting and enjoying her family’s Champagne – she doesn’t want it to be such a well kept secret. We agree wholeheartedly! Moore Champagne is now bringing Jean Plener’s Champagnes over to the UK for more
people to enjoy. We especially like the Rosé - having enjoyed a fair few bottles ourselves so far this summer! We liked it so much that we even had it at a family wedding earlier in
June. Along with the great taste, what is also great news is the price as Jean Plener Champagnes start at only £26 a bottle. Great value for fantastic family produced
Grand Cru grower Champagne.
Not being a sommelier, nor a master of wine, nor a gourmand, nor a bon viveur but reckoning to be a pretty good listener and recounter of tales I was delighted
to have the opportunity to squirrel away a little gem from a lady vigneron(ette?) about the source of bubbles in Champagne glasses.
Carbon Dioxide gas evolves during the secondary fermentation process and is dissolved and then held within the liquid as long as it remains pressurised. Once the cork is released the gas comes out of the solution in the form of small bubbles. Why does it not all happen at once, like a balloon going pop, with one giant bubble escaping out of the liquid?
By all accounts nature needs a catalyst to make things happen. Imperfections on the side of the glass or microscopic pieces of fibre from tea towels play the part of catalysts and are the places where the bubbles form and then rise upward. The bubbles increase in size as they rise as the pressure lowers and as more gas evaporates into the bubble.
The effect of cleaning your Champagne glasses in a dishwasher is to cover the inside of the glass with a homogenous film of rinse aid which is perfectly smooth with no imperfections. Next time you pour a glass of your favourite cheer – no bubbles. By all accounts those restaurants, bars and hotels in the know, ensure that all glasses are given a buff up using a specialist glass cloth - thus ensuring a residue of fibre for the bubble sources. There are even some establishments who will take a sharp implement and gently scratch the inside of a dishwasher cleaned glass to endeavour to create one favoured spot for bubble formation and thus impress with a stream of bubbles rising from just one location.
Next time you see it you can you can either tell everyone and be a boring old got or you can just relax and enjoy it.
Suppose you are a small family firm – but you don’t run a convenience store – you make Champagne for a living. You do this because your parents did it and because your grandparents did it and because your great-grand parents did it. Your family has owned a substantial area of vines in the most famous winegrowing area in the world for generations. Originally your forebears were simply grape farmers who sold their produce to the famous Champagne houses. They probably took part in the famous champagne riots in 1910 and 11 when grape producers after several years of poor harvests learnt that the major purchasers were not only colluding to force down grape prices but also endeavouring to bring in grapes from outside the region. The village of Ay was set ablaze, houses pillaged and the Governor declared a state of civil war to which the government responded by despatching troops to restore order.
Once the upheaval of the Great War was over, which it should be remembered included the occupation and destruction of large sections of the Champagne area, an increasing number of growers concluded that rather than be at the mercy of an avaricious buying cartel, a second more profitable string to their bow would be the production of their own Champagne. Getting the resources together to acquire the equipment and facilities was not easy. Pressoirs, vinification vats, racking and cellars are not cheap. Some resorted to the use of cooperatively owned plant, some simply shared with a neighbour, some scrimped and saved and borrowed to realise their own dream.
A century later in an era of plentiful cheap easy money when the wine industry worldwide has seen startling advances in technical capability, it is intriguing to come across a practise which remains both simple but laborious. A true labour of love. Remuage (Eng. Riddling).
During Champagne production, with secondary fermentation is complete, the Champagne is aged in the bottle over a period of at least 15 months in a dark cool cellar. The bottles are stored horizontally and a crown cap fitted. The wine (its not really Champagne yet) interacts with the dead yeast cells (lees) in a process known as autolysis to provide the characteristic briochey, nutty flavour. The spent yeast collects in a slug in the middle of the bottle and needs to be coaxed down to the neck so that it can be removed (‘disgorged’ being the technical phrase) without stirring up a cloud. The bottles are removed from the horizontal rack (the ‘tirage’ and placed in the charismatic angled board with holes in it – a ‘pupitre’. The bottles are then turned by hand at regular intervals and inclined slightly more to the vertical. After about two months the bottle is vertically upright and the yeast neatly captured behind the crown cap already for the disgorgement. This process was automated back in the late 60s by the introduction of a device called a gyro pallet. There are moves now to include within the yeast microscopic grains which will attract the yeast and allow the yeast to be removed by a magnet.
However the task of Remuage is still done by hand by the small volume Grower-producers of Champagne. Albeit, if you make 10,000 bottles a year and you have at any one time 30,000 bottles in your cellar the task of remuaging a year’s worth in time for it to be disgorged at a planned moment in time is still not insignificant. A member of the family, the family remueur, has to go down to the cellar twice a week and twiddle all the bottles scheduled for disgorgement. How do they know how much to twiddle and in what direction to twiddle?
There is a cunning plan. On the top floor of the cellar there is a chalk board on which every rotational movement is recorded. Next to the board is the master plan which shows how much to twiddle and in which direction. So by looking at the picture opposite we can see that starting at the centre of what looks like a complicated diagram, the first move was an eighth anti-clockwise, followed by 3/8 clockwise, 5/8 anti-clockwise, 7/8 clockwise, 10/8 anti-clockwise. Simple and effective.
We are on our way to pay a visit to Bernard Pertois Champagne in the village of Le Mesnil sur Oger. Concerned about the need to have to talk French for the next two hours, I had thankfully fortified myself with a hearty breakfast and a couple of glasses of strong black coffee.
Standing on the corner of rue Charpentier Laurain in the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil sur Oger, is an imposing family house with an attractive courtyard and garden. The Pertois family has been growing grapes for more than 10 generations and started producing their own Champagne back in 1910. They have 15 hectares of vines of which 7 are Grand Cru Chardonnay. The only grape used for their Grand Cru Champagne production is Chardonnay with the balance being sold on to other producers including some of the big names in Reims.
Having parked next to the family Renault we make our way over towards what looks like a small office on the far side of the courtyard. We find Claudine sat behind a reception desk and explain that we have a 10am appointment. She seems to know the score and slips away only to return two minutes later with the current custodian of Bernard Pertois Champagne, Patrice Pertois, all wreathed in smiles and whose sparkling eyes have a hint of fun and merriment.
His lack of English is laid bare in the first two seconds and I have to engage the French side of my brain and deploy my limited vocabulary in as imaginative manner as possible.
A leather apron and workman’s dungarees reinforce the strongly Gallic impression of a hardworking man who knows how to make good Champagne. The conversation starts with gentle discussions about
how each other’s businesses are going and as ever, no one is making a fortune and we are all just ticking over happily.
Patrice runs a sizable grower Champagne business, producing 35,000 bottles per year and employing 8 staff and up to 60 casual staff for the harvest. His son, a graduate of the Lycee Viticole in Avize, works alongside him.
There is a system in place run by the Champagne authorities (the CIVC) which decides in advance of the harvest what the maximum yield will be. Cognac and Champagne are the only areas to employ a
quota system for output. They also determine the size of the stock blocke. This is the volume of this year’s fermented wine that must not be used. Its purpose is to act as an insurance policy
against freak weather events such as a frost in June or a biblical deluge in September. The weather this year has been strange. It was marked by an absence of snow in the winter followed by
hardly any frost in the spring. In April there was no rain and the whole month was unusually warm. These benign conditions however were offset by a steady easterly dry wind. Nevertheless it looks
as though 2014 will be an above average year.
Patrice utilises the standard Chablis style of plant management in his vineyard. That is to say 2 to 3 bunches of grapes on each branch. 2 branches per plant and a new one for next year. Spraying is conducted every 10 days to prevent mildew, rot and aphids. Patrice is proud of the fact that one of his plots is adjacent to Krug’s famous Clos du Mesnil. He describes what has become an annual tradition in that every year a Krug representative comes around and makes him a very generous offer for his land, his vines and his grapes. Every year the offer is turned down.
By now my head is spinning with French wine vocabulary, terminology and new found knowledge. A short break to get my notes in order provides the ideal opportunity to taste some of Patrice’s
excellent Brut Tradition followed by some of his stunning Cuvée Réserve.
Pale gold in colour, delicate and smooth, the Brut Tradition is a fine example of 100% Chardonnay Blanc des Blancs Champagne from the Côte de Blancs area of Champagne. The Cuvée Réserve is
a real delight and one of my all time favourites. Smooth and refined with delicate flowery aromas and a pleasing finish, it is all that great Chardonnay Champagne should be. Patrice’s
hard work has really paid off as this understated Champagne clearly demonstrates just what his vines and terroir can produce. Without a doubt it gives his much better known neighbours (and their
considerably more expensive product) a real run for their money.
As much as I would wish to quaff glass after glass of this wonderful, elegant and uplifting Champagne the impending drive to our next staging post unfortunately inhibits a full on
With several cases bought for my wife and I (and any fortunate visitors) to enjoy over the coming months, it is time to leave. Across the yard an elderly gentleman who we are informed is
grandpere, Mr Bernard Pertois, is casting a keen eye over activities and gives us a cheery wave. Two hours of non-stop conversation in French have flashed past and I am delighted at my
ability to recall turns of phrase and expressions which might have been considered lost. It’s a strange thing about Champagne. It can loosen tongues and heighten bonhomie without causing that
disastrous disconnect between brain and mouth of which other drinks are so guilty.
Moore Champagne specialises in supplying Grand Cru Grower Champagnes and in particular from the Côte des Blancs area of Champagne. We are proud of offer the full range of Bernard Pertois Champagnes at very reasonable prices through our website at www.moorechampagne.com
My wife and I are in Champagne and are looking forward to the prospect of a morning with Laurent Vauversin, owner of Vauversin Champage in the Grand Cru village of Oger. As we make our way through the beautiful vineyards of the Cote des Blancs there is a suspicious lack of activity in the fields. Surely at this time of year when growth is at full throttle, the task of restraining, guiding and controlling the luxuriant growth should demand a lot of time, attention and manpower? On reflection it was also eerily quiet on the road here from Mareuil-sur-Ay. No trucks. No commuters. No white vans. All is explained subsequently when we learn that 10th May is a national holiday.
The arrival at the address of 9 Rue de Flavigny finds us sat in front of an attractive house whose entrance is garnished with all the usual signs indicating that champagne is sold here. The drive slopes down towards a basement and behind the house there is what looks like a substantial garage.
Our intrigue is assuaged by the arrival of a newish Renault from which a lean and donnish looking young man emerges. He is Laurent Vauversin who is our host for the morning. We are ushered into the lounge where the introductions include not only ourselves but also an uncle who is there for the holiday. Laurent’s offer of a glass of Brut Original is a tad too early even if it is a holiday and we start off on the tour and description of the business. Out of the front door, round to the right, through the front garden and you are in the vineyard.
The business of growing grapes for a living by antecedents of the Vauversin family got under way as long ago as 1640 but it was Laurent’s grandfather who took the decision to move things up a notch and start making wine on a commercial scale. That was based on the fact that his great grandfather on returning home from the Great War realised that he had a lot of Army friends and comrades who were from Paris and they were only too happy to buy his wine. In 1930 production of Vauversin champagne got under way. 84 years later Laurent is carrying on that tradition. He spent five years studying viticulture and oenology at the college in Avize before spending a year in Australia and then getting his hands dirty at home on the family holding of 3 hectares. What a wonderful opportunity at the age of just 25 to take on this business for which he has exciting plans.
Laurent has only Chardonnay vines. The type of pruning employed is standard ‘Chablis’. The vines are kept low so that at night when the earth radiates the day’s warmth heat gets to the vine. The soil in each row is pushed up around the foot of the vine to protect it from the frost. He aims to produce anything from 10 – 20 bunches of grapes on each vine.
Now the really interesting bit is that Laurent has introduced a non-chemical regime. His vineyard and his wines are the only organic Champagne produced in Oger. He uses a natural home-made infusion of Ortie (Nettles), Prele (Horsetail) and Osier (Basket willow or withy) to create a mixture for spraying. Each vine has has a brown plastic capsule suspended on the wire for seducing and confusing the caterpillars. This organic approach was initiated in 2011 shortly after Laurent completed his studies.
Indeed Laurent has got going on a variety of improvement and enhancement projects.
At the back of his grandmother’s house we stop to chat at take a look in the winey. The left hand side of the building houses fermentation and storage vats. Everything is sparklingly clean, neat and tidy. The previous day had been spent bottling last year’s crop, all 13,000 of them. The only wine remaining in the vats is the stock blocke. There is a system by which the CIVC tells each grower how much wine must be held back. This serves two purposes. It provides the Grower with a simple form of insurance and this retained wine also allows the Grower to maintain a consistent house style which may change, but only slowly. 2013 at this stage is considered to have been a good year in terms of volume of production. Laurent’s attitude to wine making is to try to be less intrusive and simpler, to allow the full flavour of the Chardonnay grape to assert itself. The right hand side of the winery is brand new and awaiting the arrival of a new pressoir. Thus, some of this year’s crop will travel no more than 5 metres from vine to pressing.
At the rear of the winery there is a set of steps leading down into the cellar. It seems a mite strange to have a cellar underneath what looks like a very modern wine making facility. On reflection it is an absolute necessity to have the space to store a total of 50,000 bottles in darkness at a constant temperature of 4-7C for the minimum of two years. One room in the cellar is devoted to 2012 stock and one can’t help but notice the oak barrels in which a future cuvee ‘Élevé en fût de chêne’ (aged in oak barrels) is gently gestating. On reaching the far corner of the cellar a passageway leads downwards to yet another chamber located directly under the basement of the house.
The capital intensive nature of this business becomes apparent when you actually look at three year’s worth of stock simply lying there. It represents the output of three harvests, a substantial purchase of vinifying materials and a large investment in bottles and caps. As a former Fast Moving Consumer Goods (euphemism for tobacco and beer) logistics expert it runs counter to one’s every inclination. Minimisation of waste, optimisation of capacity, adherence to stock keeping policy and product velocity through the supply chain are disciplines to which the Champagne business responds in its own time. The correct way to look at it is to consider the neat rows of ageing stock as ‘WIP’ –work in progress. When commenting upon this feature of the business Laurent shrugged his shoulders with Gallic nonchalance and said, ‘It is our private bank.’
Up out of the cellar and back into the house it was agreed that a taste of ‘the product’ would be most welcome. There is something intriguingly pleasant about tasting champagne from a bottle to which the label has yet to be applied. The Brut Original is a blend of 2010 and 2011. It is a very pale, light wine with a delicate nature and soft gentle mousse. It was this wine which came 7th in a competition for Le Figaro out of many top Champagnes. It tastes even better when by glancing out of the window you can see the very vines from which it was made.
Having decided to buy some bottles for personal consumption, Laurent had to swap roles from winemaker to wine vendor and packer. Downstairs in the basement was yet another arm of the business. Ready use stock, disgorging equipment, test equipment, labelling equipment, corks, packing materials were all to hand, ready to spring into action whenever the moment demanded.
With our purchases packed we made our way out to the car and Laurent outlined his vision to be a top organic Champagne producer. The process of conversion (overseen by Ecocert) to organic
was started in 2011 and this year 2014 will be the first full year of totally organic production. Clearly the practise of using wine from previous years means that a claim to be completely
organic will not be true until all previous wines have been exhausted.
It has to be acknowledged that Laurent is taking a bold step which is not without risk. His Champagnes are already excellent so it is difficult to conceive how they could be further improved but his pursuit of excellence is refreshing and encouraging - we shall continue to keep a close eye and nose on things!
Moore Champagne is proud to offer the full range of Laurent Vauversin’s Champagnes through our on line Champagne shop at www.moorechampagne.com
Cut price Champagne offers in our Supermarkets are now increasingly becoming the norm. Most visits to the supermarket wine section will find bottles of Champagne for £15 or less. Last Christmas and New Year, offers were even seen for £10 per bottle. Champagne is supposed to be a premium product, so just what is the reason for this recent discounting and what is the effect on Champagne’s image?
Firstly, I think it is worth mentioning that the concept of heavily discounted Champagne is nothing new as this article I came across from the Independent in 1992 highlights. Moet & Chandon, in expressing their concern over supermarket own brand Champagne being sold for £7.99 a bottle, point out the long term damage to the brand and perceived quality of Champagne. “The quality of some of the cheaper labels is definitely questionable. At this price point they will often represent a first-time purchase for many consumers. We believe they may be discouraged from purchasing Champagne again”. As the article point points out, “instead of trading up to Moet and other grande marques, the fools will look to good value sparkling wines coming from the New World” (or nowadays good quality and similarly priced Prosecco or Cava).
That was an example from over 20 years ago but I would argue that today’s level of discounting and availability of budget champagne is far more prevalent then back in 1992. Looking at the impact of discounting on the big brands it is clear that large discounts for well known labels could cause huge damage to a brand’s perceived value. These Champagne brands have been built up over time at considerable cost. Heavy discounting may be beneficial in the short-term but ultimately, longer-term, it will prove incredibly destructive for a premium brand. As a personal example, over the last year I have purchased Piper-Heidsieck Champagne on a number of occasions from Tesco for £16. There is now no chance that I will ever be persuaded to pay the £28 non-sale price. A more extreme example was a bottle of Bollinger I purchased a few weeks ago from Sainsbury’s for £24. Why would I now want to pay, or even believe that it was ever actually worth, £46? The consumer mindset in supermarkets will soon be that there is always a big name on offer at the £15-£24 mark, so why bother to pay any more?
While the Champagne producers may well have little control over supermarket discounting, they should be concerned. As discounting becomes the norm it will be increasingly hard to justify the premium placed on brands in the £28+ bracket, especially when reduced or supermarket own label premium Champagne at £15-£24 tastes just as good.
Once you have started discounting it is incredibly hard to wean customers off and move prices back to where they were before. Eating out is another example. If you don’t go to Prezzo,
Pizza Express or Strada (a few examples among many) without some sort of voucher or money off gimmick you cannot help feeling you are somehow paying over the odds.
Champagne sales are down in the UK with 2013 volumes down by 5% year-on-year. Discount Champagne brands may be an attempt to stem this decline in volume by tempting consumers away from Prosecco and Cava – which actually saw sales volume increase by 8% in 2013. Attempting to draw customers away from Prosecco and Cava may well be a good idea but it could be doing real damage to the Champagne brand as a whole. Due to the increased costs of production and rising costs of grapes, a £10 bottle of Champagne is close to being as cheap as it can be and as a result might not taste that great. An £8 bottle of Prosecco is therefore likely to be a far more enjoyable and memorable experience (I recently had a £10 bottle of Champagne as an ‘experiment’, it was nasty and yes, the money would have been better spent on a good bottle of Prosecco with change left over). While this does echo Moet & Chandon’s earlier point, it also raises the point that people may start to think that there is something wrong with it or that Champagne of the £10 variety, but Champagne all the same, is not actually that nice.
So what’s the answer? The big brands seem to be feeling the heat from the drop in overall sales as well as the increase in cheaper own label alternatives. Heavy discounting is only ever a short-term tactic when you have a large powerful brand image and value to maintain. Perhaps they are worried that consumers will start to feel at home in the £15-£24 bracket and will stop believing in the marketing hype that attempts to justify a £30 product? An alternative could well be an increased focus on the value offered by Grower Champagnes. Never strong on a marketing front (one of the reasons for their low price), they struggle to get their product out to consumers on a large scale and move out of the ‘niche’ area of the market understood by only a few ‘in the know’. They do however offer the perfect match of a quality product and a fair price. They also have the potential ability to differentiate on a village or domain basis – unlike the big names or cheap supermarket labels. Yes its Champagne but its also from a particular Grand Cru or Premier Cru village. This is something the other two categories cannot do by the nature of being mass produced blends from many different vineyards throughout Champagne.
Coming in at the £25 mark, grower Champagnes (identifiable by the letter RM on the bottle) seem to offer what other forms of Champagne don’t; a high quality product at a reasonable price, a product that is not artificially priced to fund a huge marketing campaign and lastly, a product that is individual, unique and interesting – something that simply seems to get lost in other types of Champagne.
Laurent Vauversin is steadily gaining recognition for his outstanding wines. His unstinting efforts and estimable product has been marked by the 2015 'Decanter World Wine Awards'
For those whose French has not progressed beyond GCSE we offer a translation of the article shown below which appeared in 'Terre de Vins'.
2014 was an exceptional year for 24 year-old Laurent Vauversin, a grower producer in Oger. First of all the award of the accreditation ‘bio’. ‘My father was very open to this course of action particularly since he hasn’t used herbicides since 2000. But he never wanted to take this step alone,’ Laurent explains. ‘ With two of us it is better and we benefit from mutual discussion.’
The three hectares of vines (of which the oldest date from 1952) are worked under a bio regime using their own recipes. Do not bother looking for another, Vauversin is the unique ‘bio’
certified vineyard in Oger – a Grand Cru village wedged in between the stars of le Mesnil and Avise. ‘It will be good for us in Oger because we are making best use of our village’s
understanding of quality, after all we supply some of the Grandes Maisons.’ the young vigneron suggests. ‘Notably Veuve Clicqout and Dom Perignon….’
Achieving the status ‘bio’ is one thing, but this year has also seen the construction of a building for processing the harvest and the purchase of a new press. ‘ A major investment for
our small undertaking but we will be able to operate completely autonomously..’ 50% of Laurent’s customers are visitors to the premises where he has 5 cuvees on offer.
The Brut Original is soft and fine. The Millesime 2006 Gastronomy – an Extra Brut cuvee from old vines. The Reserve Orpair aged in old oak barrels – is dense and subtle. Laurent explains that he has not used malolactic fermentation on his flagship cuvees since 2012. 'It ensures the most attractive acidity and safeguards the delicate features of our champagnes with a touch of brioche and a long citrusy finish.’ Lovers of coloured bubbles, displaying the fruity characteristics of raspberry and cherry will also appreciate his ‘Rose du Soir’, whose blend includes 12% Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Bouzy. Laurent also touches on his privileged relationship with his father. ’ He gives me fantastic support.’ Furthermore Laurent recounts with pride and utter lack of pretension that the Vauversin family has been ‘tied up with the vine’ since 1640.