2020 - Some Downs, but plenty of Ups too
In 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
In 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
On 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.
A 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
but for now…
All the best