Champagne, the prestige of being different
Little historical reminder: champagne had been used for religious rituals since the 1st century and in the 18th century became the attribute of the European elite. Indeed, as the beverage is difficult to produce, it is rare and expensive. Not a lot of consumers can afford it in France so wine merchants looked for opportunities exporting. Madame Clicquot entered the Russian market and then the United Kingdom, which became the driving market for French Houses of Champagne. The beverages then evolved to comply with foreigners’ palate. Sweeter for the Russians, drier for the English who drink Champagne all along the meal. Champagne became a symbol that the aristocracy drunk to stand out. Today its consumers range has widen and it is often released when winning sports, birth or marriage. Champagne is a wine of celebration.
The international influence of France. Champagne is 100% made in France, a protected appellation, a typical chalk soil in a semi-continental climate that has been classified as a UNESCO heritage since 2015. In China, Champagne is more consumed for its prestigious image than the beverage characteristics themselves, whereas in the United States the Champagne rosé is getting increasingly famous. However, the international demand for Champagne has weakened. Sales are decreasing and substitutes are becoming more threatening.
Champagne, an endangered specie
This beverage of which some tried to borrow the name for the attraction it provides, is also endangered by the climate warming up of its native region that could directly alter its organoleptic qualities. However, the most alarming threat comes from other sparkling wines.
The bubble democratisation. Sparkling wines bottles are now opened to celebrate everyday life events. Celebration with bubbly wine becoming commonplace, this appeals to “easy”, “soft” and inexpensive wines. Indeed, this informal and relaxed consumption first benefit to sparkling wines from Europe. Their grapes are less rare than those of Champagne and allow an almost unfair competition on prices with the French prestigious drink. France remains the first Champagne consumer in the world but since the 2008 crisis, French consumers are less likely to open their wallet and no longer open as many bottles as they used to. This is also true for the major Champagne importers in the world.
Export is falling. Even if Japan is one of the most loyal importers of Champagne with the United Kingdom, Japanese dropped their deliveries by 7.2% in 2016. This also concerns Australia with -9% for deliveries – Australia being the 5th largest importer of Champagne – and -10% for Belgium, for example. Other European sparkling wines have emerged since 2008 and are slowly but surely winning the market share over the Champagne’ ones.
The main challengers : Italian Prosecco et Spanish Cava
Prosecco. Sparkling (spumante) or pearling (frizzante), this wine is produced in the region of Veneto, in Northern Italy and a bottle can be sold between 8 and 15 euros – about three times cheaper than Champagne. Prosecco sales have increased by three since 2011 and in 2013, over passed those of Champagne. This Italian wine is a formidable competitor on the British market despite the English faithfulness towards Champagne. Indeed, since 2015 Prosecco has surpassed the sales of Champagne in value.
Le Cava is a sparkling wine mainly produced in the Catalonia area, Spain. With an average price of € 0.60 per kilo of grapes (€ 5.50 for the Champagne grapes), the trading houses of Cava produce wine with an average export price of € 3.90 – up to four times less expensive than champagne cost of production. However, at these prices the quality is scarce and cava export sales recently declined in Great Britain for example, where the Spanish wine quality failed to satisfy consumers.
How does the Champagne makers continue to stand out?
The great Houses of Champagne: they both bet on export to emerging markets (like China or Nigeria) that are fond of consuming prestigious wine, and on investing abroad. This is the case of the House Taittinger. This House invested in England to produce sparkling wines to sell them to a wider range of customers in the more mature markets where champagne sales are falling.
The smaller Houses of Champagne: the Champagne region benefits from a boost of reputation thanks to the classification at UNESCO. As the most inimitable thing around Champagne is its land and its image, the best solution is to use these 2 levers through wine tourism. The Champagne region understood it and set the goal of hosting more than a million of wine tourists in 5 years! Wine tourists are more than 4 millions to rush into the cellars of Bordeaux and more than 1.5 million to take the Alsace wine route, but the Champagne region struggles to attract more than 600,000 people. The CIVC (Inter-professional Committee for Champagne Wine) insists on the importance of tourism to rediscover the Champagne unique identity, educate and retain new consumers.
Champagne still represents 10% of the world market but since 2008, the production of sparkling wine has jumped up to 40% and creates serious substitutes to Champagne. These substitutes are cheaper and have improved their quality. As the prestigious aspect of Champagne is difficult to catch up, Prosecco wine will compete more with entry-level champagnes than the great Houses bottles. Once again, Champagne is going to have to reinvent itself and wine tourism appears as the privileged road to do so. So let’s save the Champagne region!
Come discover the most beautiful cellars in the world carved in chalk and travel the Champagne vineyards to discover the secrets of its creation.