Jiles's Blog

Who Am I?

17 years spent living and working in Champagne has allowed Jiles to build up a vast amount of knowledge about all things bubbly as well as a very extensive network of contacts, especially amongst the smaller and less well-known champagne makers whose champagnes will probably amaze you with their quality and diversity.

A job as area manager for Asia and Australia with Moët et Chandon was what first drew Jiles to Champagne after completing an MBA in Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC, a prestigious business school just outside Paris.

After nearly 9 years at Moët Jiles moved back to the UK where he started one of the first online businesses promoting and selling grower champagnes,

However the draw of ‘The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings’ once again proved irresistible and another 8 year stay in Champagne was the result. During this second stay in Champagne Jiles worked with the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de Champagne as an accedited consultant for small, independent champagne makers before setting up his own consultancy.

Jiles now spends his time between England and Champagne.and puts his knowledge and contacts to work helping wine lovers everywhere learn more about champagne and helping businesses and individuals to create their own private champagne brand.

He is the author of two books on champagne, several concise guides to champagne  and is the creator of an online champagne study course called My Champagne Expert

 


 

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN - FEBRUARY 2021

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN - FEBRUARY 2021

Getting a piece of the action

Ace of Spades

Well, the news that stood out for me this month was the announcement that Moët Hennessy (MH), the wines and spirits branch of the luxury brand group Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), has acquired a 50% share in Champagne Armand de Brignac that you probably know as Ace of Spades. This move marks the beginning of a partnership with the rapper Jay-Z who bought the brand back in 2014.

Since then, sales of Ace of Spades have been spectacular, reportedly reaching 500,000 bottles in 2019, and given the retail price point of $300 dollars and sometimes more, the profit is probably equally impressive. Of course, that doesn’t all find its way back to Jay Z but I imagine he's pretty pleased with the results.

That compares to sales of Dom Pérignon that are never officially divulged, but which were probably around 4 million bottles in 2019 before so many bars, restaurants and night clubs were closed or mothballed.

DPIn addition to owning Dom Pérignon, MH also owns Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Moët & Chandon and Ruinart, so they are not exactly short of famous and profitable brands. So, what was it that the two parties felt was mutually beneficial about this new partnership now?

To understand this one needs to look at a few of the background details.

The Armand de Brignac brand was created in 2006 by Champagne Cattier in the village of Chigny-les-Rose at the request of an American company that saw a gap in the market for an ultra-premium brand that boasted not just great quality champagne in the bottle, but also striking packaging to catch the eye.

In the initial years sales grew steadily but not spectacularly until Jay-Z became associated with the brand. Jay-Z had previously been a loyal drinker of Cristal, the prestige brand produced by Champagne Louis Roederer, but the president of Roederer made a remark during an interview with a magazine to the effect that he would prefer it if rappers didn’t drink Cristal because, in his view, such an association damaged the image of the brand.

Understandably Jay-Z was offended by this remark and switched his allegiance to Ace of Spades which he featured prominently in some of his videos and sales took off because of this media exposure amongst the ever-growing number of Jay-Z’s fans.

No doubt it was because he saw even greater potential for Ace of Spades, that Jay-Z decided to buy the brand in 2014, but seeing that the brand is already successful why would Jay-Z want to sell 50%?

The attraction, I believe, lies in MH’s power to distribute the brand, not just in the USA, but to a global audience. Producing a top quality champagne is no easy matter, but it is only one half of the success of any brand – distribution and getting the champagne to the places where people can order and consume it is an equally important part of the recipe for success and MH’s powerful and well established worldwide network of affiliates means that they are perfectly placed to increase sales of Ace of Spades to levels that Jay-Z cannot reach on his own.

On the other hand, MH feels that Ace of Spades has created a new category of champagne drinker that MH cannot reach with the more traditional prestige brands in their portfolio despite their undoubted quality. According to the head of MH, Ace of Spades is modern, uncomplicated and refreshingly attractive and it would seem that MH sees huge potential in that market and they want a part of it.

To support that belief, it’s worth noting that in 2019 global sales of prestige champagnes reached 8.6 million bottles and exceeded 5% of total sales for the first time. The market share in terms of value was much higher, of course. The main market for these brands is the USA where, with 2.3 million bottles imported, they captured 9.1% of the market for volume and 22.4% for value (at import, not retail, prices).

Action that you don’t want

To illustrate the importance of getting the distribution right and the perils of getting it wrong, it has been reported that the owners of theMOD Selection Mod Selection champagne brand, with which the rapper Drake is closely associated, is suing a chain of retail outlets and the distributor of the brand in the USA for allegedly damaging the brand image in various ways including ‘dumping’ the champagne at prices a between $49- $149 when the regular retail price is $300-$400.

The distribution system in the USA is particularly complex, not least because each state can set its own rules and regulations, so understanding and mastering the distribution chain is a crucial factor in the success of any brand and something that anyone considering launching a new brand, should investigate thoroughly.

 

Bounce back?

Just about everyone in or associated with the wine trade is hoping that the easing of COVID restrictions will soon see a return to something like normal sales. To support this view, the Beverage Alcohol Chief at Costco, one of America’s largest retail chains said in an interview (in Shanken Daily) that

At the start of Covid, like many others, we saw consumers trading down on price points, especially in the sparkling wine category. But as we moved through summer, prosecco and Champagne really came back strong as people were willing to spend more to have a great experience at home.

It seems that people can’t wait to start celebrating again once they are given the chance.

Going Green

Now some local news from Champagne.

The Champagne vineyards have a chequered history when it comes to looking after the environment and being ‘green’. In fact, 20 years or so ago, it was a rarity to see anything green at all in the vineyards during the months before the leaves came out. In those days allowing grass to grow between the rows of vines was seen as an eccentric thing to do and most vignerons used herbicide to suppress the grass. The result was a landscape that was poor in biodiversity and brown and uninspiring to look at, in winter at least.

These days things are changing for the better and changing rapidly and an increasing number of vineyards are converting to organic or biodynamic viticulture. The figures for 2019 show that some 20% of all the vineyards in Champagne are already certified as organic or are in the process of conversion.

Yet things are never quite plain sailing because there are serval organisations that grant certification and they are not all treated in the same way.

HVEAt national level, the HVE certificate (Haute Valeur Environmentale) has been promoted by the government.VDC

At  regional level there is the VDC certificate (Viticulture Durable en Champagne) which was developed and promoted by the Comité Champagne.

It’s important to note these certificates testify to the fact that environmentally friendly practices are being used, but they do not indicate that the vineyard is necessarily organic.

Be that as it may, since both schemes have the same broad objectives and demand much the same standards to be observed one can entirely understand the disappointment and annoyance of those vignerons who dutifully obtained the VDC certificate promoted by their local organisation only to discover recently that it does not carry with it the same level of recognition and benefits as the national HVE certificate.

This has caused a bit of a rumpus and one gets a sense that this discussion is far from over.

Out and about

Finally, to finish this month’s bulletin on the same topic of what’s going on in the vineyards, I’d like to share a few pictures of Champagne at this time of year.

Whenever I take a walk in the vineyards, which is very often, I am always struck by the variety of things to notice. There is never nothing going on and there is always something to see and pay attention to.

The first picture shows a plot of vines cultivated in a more conventional way which prevents grass from growing between the rows. Herbicide may, or may not, have been used on this plot but you can see that every third row is covered with wood chippings which also inhibit the growth of grass and weeds.

No grass cover

The second picture shows a plot where some rows are grass covered (1 in 3) and some are not (2 in 3)

Grass and No grass

Picture 3 shows a plot that is entirely enherbé (grass covered)

It’s certainly easy on the eye, but it’s important not to assume that the absence of grass means that the vigneron doesn’t care about the environment and is too lazy to go to the trouble of growing grass and tending it. There are several good reasons why allowing grass to grow too abundantly, or even at all, is just not practical.

Grass everywhere

Next is a picture of a plot tended by someone who is clearly concerned about the environment and wants to increase the diversity of flora and fauna in the vineyards. He or she has gone to the trouble of installing a number of bird boxes and of planting trees at intervals along the rows. This is not just to look pretty. The birds will help control insects and the blossom on the tress will attract bees for pollination.

Bird boxes 1

Last is a picture that just caught my eye because of the contrasting colour with the bright and clear blue sky above, the sand colour of the huge stones in the wall and below that, the brown and green of the vineyard itself.

Contrasting colours

 

I hope you enjoyed that short ‘walk’ through the vineyards and I’ll be back again with another bulletin from Champagne in a month’s time.

Meanwhile, if you want to contact me to discuss any of the topics covered this month's bulletin, including creating your own champagne brand, you can do so by email to

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last but not least, if you want to learn more about champagne, check out my online course called My Champagne Expert. You can find out all the details on this link

https://my-man-in-champagne.lpages.co/my-champagne-expert-100

Until next month, all the best from Champagne

 

Jiles

Champagne Bulletin January 2021

2020 - Some Downs, but plenty of Ups too

Roller coasterIn the current circumstances I suppose that worrying about the fall in the number of bottles of champagne shipped during the year, is very much a ‘1st world-problem’ compared to the far greater challenges faced by many people around the world. However this bulletin is all about champagne (the wine) and Champagne (the region) so let’s delve deeper into this month’s news and I’m pleased to say that there is a lot to tell you and that it’s far from being all bad.

Since last March there have been all sorts of ultra-pessimistic estimates of the devastating impact lockdowns and other restrictions on normal life, might have on champagne. Well, the news hasn’t been great, it’s true, but as the year-end figures came in, they turned out to be quite a bit better that some feared.

The full year figure for 2020 was 244.8 million bottles shipped.

True, that’s a drop of 18% versus 2019 (297.5 million) but it’s a lot better than the worst forecasts that suggested the figure might fall as low as 200 million.

What’s more interesting is that the French market fell by a full 20% (a survey not so long ago suggested that the French are amongst the most pessimistic nations in the world), whilst the rest of the world recorded a fall of ‘just’ 16%.

The results for the rest of the world are a  mixed bag with, on the one hand, some of the major markets such as the USA, the UK and Japan registering decreases of 20% ( or more in the case of Japan), and on the other hand, some markets seeing much less significant declines: Belgium -5% and Switzerland -9% for example. In Australia shipments actually increased by 14%. versus 2019.

 Go you Aussis!

Not surprisingly, with restaurants, bars, hotels and hospitality venues (on-premise) almost totally closed, the bottles that were shipped were destined for the off-premise market and several countries saw a surge of sales for home consumption.

In the UK, for example, off-premise sales were actually up 3% compared to 2019. A large percentage much of these off-premise sales were in supermarkets where attractive discounts clearly boosted sales, but it wasn’t only champagnes in the lower price bracket that enjoyed strong sales; higher priced, prestige brands also had a good year in the off-premise with the result that the total value of champagne retail sales increased by a full 12% in the year to end 26th December 2020.

The chairman of the U.K.’s Champagne Agents Association even went as far as to describe the results as ‘ astonishing’.

In the USA in particular, it’s DtC, Direct To Consumer, sales that have saved the day and have shown a 27% increase on the previous year in terms of the number of bottles sold, although it must be said that the average value per bottle has fallen. However these figures relate to domestic wine rather than champagne.

Nevertheless, all this buoyancy in the off-premise didn’t compensate for the near total loss of sales in the on-premise market, but it does show, I believe, the underlying strength of champagne and it  does give cause for optimism that total sales will grow again once bars and restaurants can re-open and welcome customers.

The big guns make a statement

LallierIn case anyone was thinking that champagne had lost its lustre and that consumers were turning to other beverages and other indulgences, a quick look at the moves that two big drinks companies have made recently will suggest that the truth is quite different.

A couple of months ago, Champagne Lallier, a mid-sized brand with a good reputation based in the village of Aÿ, was acquired by Campari, the giant Italian drinks group.

Lallier has grown significantly over the past 15 years or so under the management of Francis Tribaut, and these days produces about 1 million bottles annually.

The fact that a company of Campari’s size felt the need to enter the champagne market was in itself a powerful indication of its belief in the long-term future of champagne and an indication that it sees plenty of potential for further growth and, more importantly, greater profitability in the years to come.

Not content with just entering the market, Campari has now gone one step further and made a bold statement of their intention to add value to their range of champagnes by appointing Dominique Demarville as Director General and Chef de Cave, or head winemaker.

Monsieur Demarville is a well-known figure in Champagne. He was formerly Chef de Cave at Veuve Clicquot and more recently held the same position at Laurent Perrier

That Campari has now tempted Monsieur Demarville to join Champagne Lallier is yet another indication that they mean business.

Finally, on this subject, let’s remember that a few months ago, Champagne De Telmont, a brand of similar size to Lallier, was acquired by the Rémy Cointreau group who stated its ambition to develop De Telmont into an international brand.

One acquisition of this sort by a major drinks conglomerate is just an interesting event, but two within the space of a few months, is a ringing endorsement of a bright and profitable future for champagne.

No St. Vincent

St Vincent procession in VerzyOn a slightly less buoyant note, the traditional Fête de Saint Vincent was cancelled this year because of … ‘you know what’.

Saint Vincent is the patron saint of vignerons and his festival day (January 22nd) is celebrated in almost every village throughout Champagne.

The day starts with a vin d'amitié which is hosted by one of the champagne makers in each village. When a glass or two have been enjoyed, everyone sets off to church.

Progress to church is usually marked by a procession . The champagne makers of the village dress in traditional costume and carry a symbolic barrel of wine as well as loaves of bread to the local church to be blessed.

The church service is followed by a lunch, often at the village hall, that is liberally washed down with champagne.

If you ever get invited to one of these lunches, but sure to accept but set aside the entire day. It’s not likely that you’ll get much work done afterwards.

Women in Champagne

In the world of entertainment, a London based company called Swipe Films has announced that it will be showing a new film called Sparkling: The Story of Champagne, at this summer’s Cannes Film Festival.

It appears, from what I have read, that the focus will be on the famous brands that are so familiar to most champagne lovers: Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot and Pol Roger, to mention just three, and whilst any film that extolls the appeal of champagne is welcome, there is far more to champagne than a handful of famous brands – some 4,000 other champagne brands to be more precise – and it is to be hoped that their champagnes also come to the attention of a wider audience soon.

The same film will also highlight the important role played, throughout the history of champagne, by women. The names of the Veuve Clicquot, Lily Bollinger and Louise Pommery are already famous, but, once again, there is far more to tell about the women of champagne than just these three.

Both Krug (Margareth Henriquez), Moët & Chandon (Berta de Pablos-Barbier) are headed up by women. Then there is Carol Duval-Leroy at Champagne Duval-Leroy and Évelyne Boizel at Champagne Boizel, yet to stop there would be just to scratch the surface of the increasing importance of women in champagne many of whom go, as yet, unnoticed.

Francoise Bedel800A few you may wish to note down, from houses both large and small, are

  • Alice Paillard, of Bruno Paillard
  • Nathalie Doucet at Besserat de Bellefon
  • Alice Tettienne , Cheffe de Caves at Henriot
  • Anne Malassagne at AR Lenoble
  • Françoise Bedel at Champagne Françoise Bedel (pictured)
  • Charlotte de Sousa at Champagne De Sousa
  • Valérie Frison at Val Frison
  • and three remarkable ladies at Champagne J. Lasalle

There are many more, but not enough space here to list them all.

That’s all for this month’s bulletin. As I mentioned at the beginning, the start of the year has been lively and there has been a lot to share with you, so if you’ve read this far, thank you.

I’ll be back next month with more, and in the meantime you can email me with any questions and comments at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

but for now…

All the best

Champagne Bulletin December 2020

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN DECEMBER 2020

Beyond the obvious

This month’s bulletin is a little longer than normal because there are several interesting topics to explore, particularly around the theme of exploring some of the less well-known, but fascinating and rewarding aspects of champagne. I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Credit where credit is due

VinousAnyone who has met me over the past few years or has read any of my posts will know that I am a great fan of the smaller, independent champagne makers. That’s why I am sometimes disappointed by the results of the innumerable champagne competitions and awards which invariably give all the top accolades to a limited number of well-known brands.

I don’t wish to suggest that these brands are not all of very high quality, it’s just that the lists are often very predictable. For me that raises a few questions:

  • Which champagnes did not make the Top 10 or Best 20, or whatever name is used.
  • Which champagnes simply did not enter the competitions and were not even tasted?
  • Which champagnes were entered for the competition but found to be of lesser quality than the winners?

I short, I just feel that some of the amazing champagnes made by less well-known producers don’t get the attention they deserve from many mainstream wine commentators and publications.

That’s why I was so pleased to see the list of ‘Must Have’ champagnes listed by Antonio Galloni in his recent article Champagne 2020 New Releases published on his web site Vinous. Here’s the list and you can see that it includes only one name that I would call a ‘major’ brand· 

  • Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Rare Vintage Cuvée Spéciale
  • Chartogne-Taillet 2016 Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs Heurtebise
  • Christophe Baron 2016 Brut Nature Les Hautes Blanches Vignes (Magnum)
  • Ulysse Collin NV Extra Brut Rosé de Saignée Les Maillons (base 2016)
  • Marie Courtin 2017 Extra Brut Sans Soufre Présence
  • Georges Laval 2016 Brut Nature Les Chênes
  • Laherte Frères 2016 Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les Grandes Crayères 1er Cru
  • Cédric Bouchard-Roses de Jeanne 2016 Blanc de Blancs La Bolorée
  • Jacques Selosse NV Extra-Brut Le Mesnil sur Oger Les Carelles (2013)
  • Jacques Selosse NV Extra-Brut Aÿ La Côte Faron (2013)
  • Taittinger 2008 Comtes de Champagne
  • Veuve Fourny & Fils NV Extra-Brut Rosé MV 13 Vinothèque
  • Vilmart & Cie 2012 Coeur de Cuvée

Each and every one of these champagnes is worthy of any champagne enthusiast’s attention but it must be said that some of them are not cheap, so for anyone with a more modest budget Mr. Galloni also made a list of a few other ‘ Must Haves’ at more affordable prices:

Arnaud Margaine

  • Margaine NV Brut Le Brut ( Arnaud Margaine pictured left)
  • Chartogne-Taillet NV Brut Cuvée Ste.-Anne
  • RH Coutier NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
  • Gatinois NV Brut Réserve Grand Cru
  • Laherte Frères NV Brut Ultradition Blanc de Blancs
  • Christophe Mignon NV Brut Nature Blanc de Noirs ADN de Meunier
  • JL Vergnon NV Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs Murmure 1er Cru

Everyone has his or her own favourites and opinions of course, and personally, there are several other names that I would have included in one or other of these lists, but the point is that there is a whole world  to discover beyond the famous brands and it’s well worth exploring.

If you’re a champagne lover who usually sticks to the main brands, you may be wondering how to start learning more about the rest of the iceberg that most people never see.

 If that’s you, then take a look at My Champagne Expert, the online champagne course I created after living and working in Champagne for almost 20 years. It will guide you through the region the people and the wines and turn you into a champagne expert in your own right. Here’s a link to find out more.

https://www.mymaninchampagne.com/my-champagne-expert-online-champagne-course

It’s the distribution stupid!

So, if these smaller brands are so good, how come I don’t see them in my local wine shop or restaurant and what makes the bigger brands so successful anyway?

Enherbement well doneWell, there are a number of factors that explain the success of the famous brands: well managed vineyards and skilful wine makers are two of them, but the smaller producers can lay claim to these attributes as well.

Two important areas where the small producers are less able to compete are the scale of production and the quality of the marketing, but in my opinion, the main reason for any brand’s success the distribution.

The reason why so many people rarely get to drink anything other than brands such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, or Lanson, to mention just a few popular brands, is not because those brands are the best on the market, although they are all of excellent quality.

The real reason is because these brands are available almost whenever the consumer goes. It’s all very well wanting to try something different but if the bar you’re in only offers one option, the chances are that brand will be one of the big names.

Of course, in order to get your brand into the maximum number of outlets you have to have very large-scale production, so that mitigates against the smaller operations too, but as Antonio Galloni suggests, great quality is not limited to just a handful of famous brands and you will usually be rewarded with a great experience if you venture to try something from an independent producer the next time you are considering buying a bottle of champagne.

Bad timing

Generic casesIn previous bulletins I mentioned that all eyes in Champagne were focussed on the end of the year in the hope that sales would bounce back in the crucial run up to Christmas and the New Year. Alas, instead of an improvement in the situation regarding COVID, a second lockdown was implemented which cut the ground from under the feet of all those looking for some rays of sunshine at the end of the year.

Nevertheless, if we look for a few less-discouraging numbers we can see from the figures recently released by the Comité Champagne that in the year till the end of October shipments were down 7.9% versus October 2019. Perhaps not too bad a result, all things considered.

The bulk of this decline was in France (-18.3%) and to a lesser extent in Europe (- 2.8%), but shipments to the rest of the world were up 3.6% versus October 2019 with the USA, Canada, Australia, China and Hong Kong driving this growth.

However, the full year picture shows no real recovery with the 12-month moving annual total (MAT) to the end of October running at 253.1 million bottles. With lockdown restrictions in France and most of Europe showing little sign of improving, the MAT will probably fall again by the end of December, albeit with some green shoots in North America and Asia.

A word about private brands

Many of you reading this bulletin will have contacted me about creating a private brand champagne and you may be asking what all the news above might have on your projects and ambitions.

Crystal Ball 2You won’t be surprised when I say that I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t predict the future. In fact, no one can.

I have just read an article by a university professor who specialises in the study of the champagne industry. He is confident that some things will change as a result of the events of 2020 but quite what is another matter – we may see this happening, but on the other hand, that might happen, or then again it’s possible that the other might come into play.

Not very helpful stuff, but is there anything we can say with certainty?

On the supply side and referring back to some of the topics mentioned above, the famous, luxury brands will never agree to produce private label champagne. That has never been their policy and they will not change now.

Equally, the smaller producers who are beginning to build a reputation will not be interested in private brand business either. Most of them have relatively limited production and their increasing prestige means they can sell all the bottles they produce anyway.

That still leaves hundreds of good quality champagne makers to choose from. Many of these, particularly those who depend to any extent on the French market, will have seen their sales declining and will therefore be all the more open to new opportunities.

On the demand side, the small but welcome signs that champagne sales in the USA and Canada are holding up well, are encouraging.

A good quality champagne, supported by a well-planned marketing strategy and reliable, (not necessarily widespread) distribution will always have a good chance of success.

Anyone who would like to discuss a private brand project is welcome to contact me by email to explore the idea and the options available.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

---

Many thanks for reading this far and for your interest.

With sincere wishes to everyone for a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year in 2021

Jiles Halling

30th December 2020

Champagne Bulletin November 2020

Logo Horizontal

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN NOVEMBER 2020

I’m writing this month’s bulletin a few days earlier than usual because, at the beginning of December I’ll be travelling to my house in Champagne to spend the next few months there. It will be a chance to meet up with some old friends, film a lot of new videos and, of course, taste some superb champagnes, but that won’t leave too much time for writing, so here are a few thoughts and observations about what’s been going on in and around Champagne in November.

Reasons to be cheerful

(No, not a reference to that great 1970s song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads)

Reasons to be cheerfulChampagne is so closely associated with good times and celebrations that you may be wondering whether anyone will be drinking champagne at the end of this extraordinary year which, for many, has held so much uncertainty and downright suffering.

It’s a fair question, but there are a number of indicators that suggest that champagne has lost little or none of its appeal and that this year, more than ever, people need something to be positive about and what better way to raise the spirts than to open a bottle of champagne. Let’s look first at the shipment figures.

The latest shipment figures to the end of September show that

  • Total shipments were only 9.9 % lower than in September 2019
  • More importantly, the Moving Annual Total for January to September (MAT) shows a total of almost 256 million bottles shipped during this period (-14.8% versus last year).

To put this in context, remember that 300 million bottles shipped for the year is what was being mooted before the onset of ‘you know what’.

  • If the monthly shortfall versus last year holds at -10% or less during the next three crucial months, the annual total for 2020 may end up at 260 million or even 270 million bottles which would be a far cry from some of the more pessimistic forecasts of 6 months ago when a collapse to 200 million was being put forward as a possibility.
  • It’s also worth noting that it’s the small independent champagne makers (Vignerons) whose sales are holding up better than the cooperatives or the big brands ( Maison). This is mainly because the vignerons sell most of their production in France and their prices are generally lower than those of bigger brands. A sign perhaps that people are more cautious in their spending at the moment?

But why should we expect champagne sales and shipments in the last three months of 2020 to be positive?

There is not much other than anecdotal evidence to point to, however there are signs that an increase in off-premise consumption of champagne is helping to offset the closure of large parts of the on-trade, although it cannot entirely compensate for those loses.

This would suggest that, as Maxime Toubart, president of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons said

“Les consommateurs ne boudent pas le champagne

Consumers are not turning away from and denying themselves the pleasure of champagne!

If that is true, expect a surge in sales of champagne when we finally emerge from the current doldrums. May that be sooner rather than later.

Champagne as an investment

Live Ex 1You may not think about champagne as an investment vehicle, but the fact of the matter is that those who have invested in champagne are doing very nicely for themselves.

At the moment there are just a handful of famous brands that are considered to be investment material; the leading brands are Dom Pérignon and Louis Roederer Cristal - pretty much every release of these brands is quoted on wine investment platforms.

In what you might call the second rank you’ll find, Krug, Salon, Taittinger (Comtes de Champagne), Pol Roger (Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill) and Bollinger (Grand Année) and, in recent years, Philipponnat (Clos des Goisses).

 When I say ‘second rank, I don’t mean  to imply that these brands are inferior in quality to the first two, but rather that the number of bottles produced is lower and / or that only certain cuvees released by these houses are considered for investment .

A few cuvées from other brands are sometimes traded, these include Laurent-Perrier, Charles Heidsieck, Henri Giraud and Billecart Salmon.

The prices are very much dependent on the scores given to each wine by leading wine writers, but the most highly-rated vintages trade for prices not far below £2,000/case and show handsome growth too.

If you’d like to find out more, check out Live-Ex one of the leading platforms for wine investment

 https://www.liv-ex.com/

Confidence in the future

IWA 5Those of you reading this bulletin who have contacted me to explore the idea of creating your own champagne brand may be interested in this story about someone who has definitely not lost either his appetite for adventure, his skill as a wine maker or his conviction that the future holds many opportunities. He is Richard Geoffroy who for some 28 years was the chef de cave at Dom Pérignon.

Richard was born and raised in a champagne making family but in his teenage years decided to train as a doctor, but no sooner had he completed his medical training than the lure of wine and champagne persuaded him to start training all over again, this time as a student of viticulture and oenology.

I got to know Richard well during the time I worked in Epernay at Moët & Chandon’s head office (Moët is the company that owns the Dom Pérignon brand) and we worked together in Japan on several occasions.

During these times Richard’s fascination with Japan and Japanese cuisine became very apparent. It therefore didn’t surprise me as much as it may have surprised others, when I learned that, after his retirement at the end of 2018, he decided to create his own brand of sake called IWA5.

Launching a new, high-quality and fairly expensive wine brand (IWA retails at $150) at a time when much of the world is thinking of cutting back and dropping prices is not for the faint hearted, but it is said that the smartest business people see opportunities when others see only problems.

Of course, the current circumstances are throwing up some unusual challenges - as Richard puts it “I’m living the most important project of my life from a distance”, but that hasn’t stopped the project from going ahead and  IWA5 is gaining distribution in many prestige outlets across Asia and gaining critical acclaim. Launches in Europe are planned for the coming months.

It’s looking like another triumph for Richard.

To discover a little more, here’s a useful article from club oenologique

https://cluboenologique.com/story/from-champagne-to-japan-richard-geoffroy-releases-his-first-sake-bottling/

Now is always a good time to learn more

Whether you want to create your own champagne brand or simply to indulge your love of ‘the king of wines and the wine of kings’, learning is always a good choice, but it doesn’t have to be a hard slog - it should be fun too.

My Champagne Expert screen shot 1That’s why I created My Champagne Expert – an online champagne course based on everything I experienced during 17 years living and working in Champagne.

If you’re a champagne lover at any level, you’ll want to check out My Champagne Expert and you can do that by clicking on thw link below.

Here you’ll find details about each of the 10 modules and meet some of the champagne makers who feature in the 50 + videos in the course.

With Christmas fast approaching, give yourself an early Christmas present and learn more about champagne than most sommeliers learn in a lifetime.

Here’s the link to discover more and I look forward to seeing you on the inside.

https://my-man-in-champagne.lpages.co/my-champagne-expert-100

Jiles Halling

November 2020

Champagne Bulletin October 2020

MMIC Logo crop250

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN OCTOBER 2020

 

All eyes on the end of the year

More about that later, but first… famous brands are undoubtedly superb, but the smaller guys are sometimes the ones to watch.

Even though I have been lucky enough to taste some of the finest champagnes produced by the most famous brands ( I even worked for one of them for many years) my real interest has always been in the smaller, independent houses many of which  deserve more recognition, not just for the wonderful champagne they make, but also for the way they work. In my experience it’s often these smaller companies that start the trends that are later taken up by the bigger names.

That’s why I was interested to read a recent article announcing the creation of a body, headed up by Champagne Henriot and called Alliance Terroir, whose aim is to better understand and promote the many terroirs of Champagne.

One of the activities of Alliance Terroir is to dig trenches in vineyard plots to study the composition of the soil, the different geological strata, how the vines’ root systems develop in each one and to analyse the microbial life in the soil and measure the amount of water retention.

All these are worthy aims that are very useful and there is no question that Champagne Henriot is a fine house. What struck me however is that work just like this has been carried out quietly for years by many smaller houses, without any fanfare or fuss, just because it makes good sense to gather as much knowledge about your vines and your vineyard as possible.

Take Champagne Coessens in Ville-sur-Arce for example.

Coessens

https://www.champagne-coessens.com/en/

Jerôme Coessens produces 8 different wines (6 champagnes and 2 coteaux champenois)  from just one terroir called Largillier and from just one varietal: Pinot Noir. He can achieve this diversity in part because many years ago he undertook exactly the type of excavations now being suggested by Alliance Terroir.

If you have a mind to, you can read the results of the digs on the downloads available (in French) on Jerôme’s web site, but they can make  challenging reading unless you are a budding pedologist. What is far more exciting mind you, are his wines – well worth trying if you have never had the pleasure.

Further north, in Ambonnay, you’ll find that Benoît Marguet is similarly fascinated with the soil in his plots and has been for years and years as you can see from these pictures I took on an extremely cold January day a few years back.

That’s Benoît in the fur hat standing in one of the many trenches he and his team examined that day. The other onlookers are fellow champagne maker anxious to learn so that they too can put similar ideas into practice in their own vineyards.

Benoit in the trench800

In the trench800

 

Watching the dig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my mind these concrete examples show once again that many so-called new ideas come from the small enterprises who can be more agile, innovative and dynamic than their larger cousins.

Watching the numbers

60% or more of champagne sales occur in the last three months of each year, so from that point of view, the start of the COVID episode, last March, happened at the least damaging period of the year. Even so, the drop in sales due to the restrictions on business put in place, was very significant, falling over 50% in May compared to the same month in 2019.

Now however, the first hopeful signs of recovery are beginning to show.

LVMH which owns the largest stable of brands in Champagne, reported improved sales in the third quarter of this year and Pol Roger has seen the decrease in its sales versus 2019 reduce month by month from -35% in May, to -30% in June, and to -25% in July. By the end of September, the decrease had reduced to -15% and it is set to come down further in October.

Not great numbers, but far less severe than the worst-case scenario that some were talking of 6 months ago

Taking champagne as a whole, the total shipment figures for August were actually UP 15% (+ 1.1 million bottles) compared to August 2019.

So, some reason for guarded optimism and some signs of the resilience that everyone has been hoping for, but watch this space for the next three crucial months.

Celebrity brands

Here’s a topic that will be of interest to all those who have contacted me about creating a private brand of champagne.

The flurry of celebrity wines being launched on to the market shows little sign of slowing down and, indeed, that’s no surprise since the sales are so buoyant.

Kylie Minogue (Australian singing star) sold 70,000 bottles of her Provencal Rosé in the first week after launch.

Ian Botham, a famous former English cricketer has sold £4 million in value this year alone and his range is currently available in 14 countries, whilst Graham Norton (English TV personality) has sold 10 million bottles of his wine range since 2015.

Other celebrities (Idris Elba and Brangelina) have announced and/or launched their own champagne brands this year and we have covered these in previous bulletins.

Idris Elba Porte Noir

The key thing to take from these stories is twofold:

To succeed on a large scale, you don’t have to be an internationally or nationally known celebrity; what is vital however is that you have, or have access to, a large following or database of followers.

The second key to success is having a good distribution partner. Creating the wine or champagne is an important part of the process but getting it into the hands of customers is equally important.

Mind you, if your goal is more modest, it’s still perfectly possible to be successful on a smaller scale. Contact me by email  at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to learn more.

Trouble at mill

For many of you this title may not make sense – it’s an old-fashioned expression, from Yorkshire I believe – that suggests that all is not well, and more trouble is probably on the way.

I mention this in connection with the story that you may recall from an earlier bulletin about the spat between the SGV (Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne) and the VIC (Vignerons Indépendents de Champagne).

The VIC occupied offices in the SGV building in Epernay and was associated with the SGV in so far as the VIC was represented by the SGV in meetings of the overall governing body in Champagne.

Just before the harvest this year, the VIC lost faith that the SGV was properly defending the interests of the members of the VIC at those meetings. The VIC president then told the members to withhold their subscription payments to the SGV and the disagreement lead to the VIC being told to vacate their office in the SGV building.

In the latest twist, the VIC have just re-elected, their president who was such an outspoken critic of the SGV, and they have done so with a near unanimous vote. It doesn’t look as if they are in any mood to soften their stance.

It will be interesting to watch and see how things pan out and this story provides yet more proof that there’s never nothing going on in Champagne.

---

That’s it for this month. I hope you’ve enjoyed this run down of news from Champagne that you may not have come across elsewhere.

If you have any comments or questions, drop me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.