In this video I am out and about near Verzenay, one of the most prestigious villages in La Montagne de Reims, famous for its Pinot Noir grapes and for other things which you'll discover in the video.
Click this link to watch the video
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
In this video I am out and about near Verzenay, one of the most prestigious villages in La Montagne de Reims, famous for its Pinot Noir grapes and for other things which you'll discover in the video.
Click this link to watch the video
Hello and welcome to a new series of videos direct from here in Champagne.
As I go walking in the vineyards I'll post videos of what I see so that, even if you can't come to Champagne yourself, the videos will bring a small bring a small part of Champagne into your home or office.
Here's video No. 1 and do come back soon to find out what's new. Click on this link to open the video
All the best from Champagne
CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN APRIL 2021
Unless you read the wine trade press frequently you probably won’t have heard about the widespread frost that hit almost all wine growing areas in France between the evening of April 5th and the early morning of April 8th.
Just a few weeks ago the talk was that Spring had come early to Champagne bringing with it a spell of mild, warm weather. The danger with this however is always that the thermometer would suddenly go plunging down again and regrettably that is exactly what happened.
First, the bad news
Within a matter of 48 hours the temperature dropped from 23 degrees C (73 degrees F) to -7 degrees C in some places (that's just 19 degrees F). The sub-zero temperatures killed off many of the young buds just as they were starting to emerge, and fewer buds means that fewer grapes develop and that in turn means a smaller the harvest in a few months' time.
There's not a great deal one can do about temperature swings of this magnitude, although there are a variety of measures that can be taken to mitigate the damage. These range from spraying water over the vines in a process called aspersion - it's effective because ice forms around the young buds and, surprising though it may seem, the temperature stays just above zero and so the buds are saved,
- to lighting braziers in the vineyards
and even to using low-flying helicopters to stir up the air and prevent sub-zero pockets of cold air accumulating.
Unfortunately, each one of these methods has its drawbacks: you need an abundant supply of water close by for aspersion to work effectively; you need an awful lot of braziers to keep temperatures above freezing over a large area of vineyard and not everyone has easy access to a helicopter or two!
Consequently, there was major damage to the vineyards across the Champagne region and across almost the whole of France.
And now, the not so bad news
In a situation like this, one has to look for the positives and despite the loses in the Champagne vineyards, we have a few reasons to be grateful.
Whilst still feeling sympathy for those who have been more severely affected, many here are relieved that Champagne has fared less badly than many other places as you can see from this estimate of the damage recently published in The Drinks Business.
The second reason, if not exactly to be grateful but to put things in perspective is that we have experienced frost like this many times in the past and will no doubt do so again. The years 2016 and 2003 come to mind as years when a considerable amount of the crop was lost to frost in Champagne. To some extent, frost damage is just part and parcel of the risks of being a wine maker.
Above all, Champagne, unlike most other wine-making regions, has its system of Réserve Individuel by which every wine maker puts aside a proportion of the wines from each year's harvest. This system has many benefits, one of which is to allow champagne makers to manage exactly the sort of problems that arise from frost damage.
Even within the Champagne appellation the damage varied from region to region. The most prestigious area of La Montagne de Reims and La Côte des Blancs got away fairly lightly. The worst affected area was the Aube region in the southern part of Champagne where the impact of the frost was extremely severe, because, being further south, the development of the buds was further advanced that in more northerly areas.
You can learn more about the different regions of Champagne, about the Réserve Individuelle system and much, much more in My Champagne Expert, my online Champagne course that is invaluable if you are seriously interested in creating a champagne brand or if you simply want to learn more about this fascinating region and its wonderful wine.
Here’s a link to find out more.
Don’t mess with Champagne
If you are considering creating a private champagne brand, I am sure that one of the things I will have mentioned in our discussions is the need to be very careful about the name you choose for your brand.
I have urged you to be cautious about this, in large part because the authorities here in Champagne keep a very close eye and a tight rein on the use of the word ‘Champagne’. In addition, they are extremely litigious if they notice any instances of what they consider to be abusive or misleading use of the word ‘Champagne’.
A case in point that is currently before the European Court of Justice and awaiting a verdict concerns a chain of tapas bars in Catalonia, Spain that calls itself Champanillo.
To summarise what I understand to be the basis of the matter, the Comité Champagne objects to this name because, in their opinion, it deliberately and unfairly uses an association with Champagne to derive commercial benefit thanks to the worldwide fame, recognition and image of Champagne.
The situation is aggravated because the signage used by the tapas bars often features two glasses in a typical ‘Champagne toast’ image.
The case has been going on for a few years already. The Comité Champagne’s first attempt to prevent the use of Champanillo was rejected by a court in Barcelona. That decision was appealed, and the case has now found its way all the up to the European Court of Justice. A final (or maybe not final) verdict is expected any day now.
Another well-known case is that of a village in Switzerland called Champagne. It has existing for centuries and, what’s more, wine has been made in the village for generations. It is still, not sparkling and the only grapes used are Chasselas which cannot be used in Champagne, so you might think that they had a good claim to call their wine Champagne, but you would be wrong.
The Comité Champagne took the case to the courts of the European Union which ruled against the Swiss village which now has to find a different name to market its wines.
The moral of this story is not to mess with the name Champagne. I have known cases of web sites being forced to close down and businesses being made to change their name because they used the word Champagne in the title, even in some cases, when the businesses concerned were exclusively marketing Champagne and, some might say, were helping to promote the wine from this famous region.
You have probably heard the phrase ‘Champagne only comes from Champagne’ many times before and this short story may serve to show you the lengths the Comité Champagne will go to in order to protect the appellation.
Please be careful!
Is this the start of the rebound?
As lockdown restrictions in many countries are beginning to be eased, many in Champagne have been anxiously awaiting the latest shipment figures in the hope of spotting signs of an upturn in sales.
Well, it’s too early to draw any absolute conclusions but the shipment figures, just released for March 2021 show a leap of 38.7% versus March 2020.
It should be remembered that March represents only a small part of the annual total, but this increase is nevertheless a very welcome step in the right direction and the forecast for the first quarter of 2021 is for an increase of 3.7% versus the same period in 2020.
As you certainly know, during the past year there’s been a big increase in sales direct to consumers and in at-home consumption of wine, although this hasn’t been enough to offset the losses due to bars, restaurants and other venues being closed.
Prosecco was the main beneficiary of growth in at-home consumption, probably because of the lower price point compared to Champagne, but as more and more people are celebrating a less restricted life with sparkling wine of many types, including Champagne, the chairman of Henkell Frexienet, one of the industry’s major players in sparkling wines and Champagne, believes that what he calls a premiumisation trend within the sparkling wine category is now emerging, with consumers seeking higher quality and showing more of an interest in learning about the different quality tiers within the sector – more good news for Champagne.
“There’s gold in them thar hills”
This was apparently the cry of prospectors rushing off to California in the 1840s Gold Rush, but you might say the same about wines and spirits.
In last month’s bulletin I wrote about some of the celebrity brands of wine and spirits that have been created by celebrities in various fields, amongst them Conor McGregor’s Proper No. 12 whiskey.
It’s recently been announced that a majority share in Proper No. 12 Whiskey has been acquired for a reported £600 million. Not a bad return considering the brand was only launched two and a half years ago.
Of course, deals like this are very much the exception, not the rule and very few people have the reputation and following of Conor McGregor, but it’s food for thought, nevertheless.
That’s all for this month, but I’ll be back at the end of May to keep you updated.
Meanwhile, all the best from Champagne.
HOW CAN I MAKE MONEY FROM A PRIVATE CHAMPAGNE BRAND?
You may already know that Dom Perignon, after whom the famous champagne brand was named, was a real person. He was a monk who lived between 1638 and 1715.
Legend has it that he was blind and, possibly as a result of his blindness, he is said to have had an exceptional sense of taste which was one of the skills that enabled him to make great wine. Anyway, one day when he had just tasted a wine that he thought was outstanding, he is said to have shouted out to his fellow monks “Come quickly. I am tasting the stars!”
Stars of a different kind are involved in the champagne business to this day and a look at this month’s news will show you what I mean and towards the end of the bulletin we’ll discuss some of the things you will need to make your champagne brand a success.
Staying on the theme of Dom Perignon, the brand has just announced a collaboration with Lady Gaga to produce a very limited number - just 110 - of special jeroboams (that’s the equivalent of 4 regular bottles).
According to the announcement, this is likely to be just the first of several joint projects between the singer and the iconic champagne brand and although both parties say that they share a passion for creativity and artistic endeavour, I am sure that the potential financial returns associated with the deal will also have been an important factor in the agreement between the parties.
No figures have been disclosed, but I can imagine that the amounts of money involved will be significant.
Many of you will have heard about The Who, a famous rock band from quite a few years back and of their iconic lead singer Roger Daltry.
Some years ago, Roger and his fellow band member and guitar legend Pete Townsend, launched a charity called Teen Cancer Trust to raise funds for young people affected by this disease. The charity operates in the UK and in the USA.
One of the ways they raise money for the trust is from sales of a champagne brand they created. I have to admit that I have not tasted this champagne; it has received some excellent scores in several wine competitions but at a price of £95 (130 USD) per bottle one would expect it to be well above average.
I imagine that a generous margin has been built into the sales price in order to raise funds for the trust. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course, and it does demonstrate how effective a vehicle champagne can be as a means of fund-raising for a charity.
Picture credit: Eminent Life
In the spirit world
On the subject of raising money and stardom, Becle, the company behind Jose Cuervo tequila, has secured a US$150m loan to acquire the remaining stake it doesn’t already hold in Conor McGregor’s Proper No.12 Whiskey.
If you don’t know of Conor McGregor, he’s a well-known, even notorious, mixed martial arts fighter who was recently involved in created a brand of Irish whiskey.
With sums of money as high as $150 million changing hands, and that is only for a portion of the shares in the brand, one can quickly see that there is potentially a great deal of money to be made from wines and spirits brands,
but is this type of money only possible for film stars, singers and other people who are already famous?
The honest answer is probably, Yes.
These eye-watering brand valuations are the exception rather than the rule and it would be a serious mistake to imagine that if you create a brand of champagne, or anything else, the money will just fall from the trees.
Who will you sell to?
The key factor for all these celebrities is that they have a huge following of fans who are ready to buy almost anything that they endorse and, sometimes, to buy them at almost any price.
Therefore, if you are considering creating a private champagne brand, the key learning is that you need to have, or have access to, a substantial database of potential clients and you have to give them a good reason to buy your product at least once – once you have secured a first order, it will be down to the effectiveness of your follow-up marketing to generate repeat orders.
It follows that before you go very far down the road of creating a brand, you need to be crystal clear about who you plan to sell to and what those people are looking for. In fact, knowing as much as possible about your target audience is crucial and should be studied in-depth and at length.
Where are those people?
Equally, the question of distribution is of critical importance.
How are you going to deliver your product to your customers once they have placed an order?
Over the past year, with many bars, restaurants and hotels closed, people have not been able to enjoy a drink at a normal hospitality venue. Consequently, we have seen a huge increase in ordering of wine on-line for enjoyment at home. This is a trend that is unlikely to go away anytime soon and it is forecast to carry on getting bigger and bigger. This is a part of your distribution strategy that you can’t afford to ignore.
Distribution is a topic that is hedged around with laws, regulations and taxes no matter which country you are in and if you can’t manage distribution yourself – which you probably can’t – then you need to find a trustworthy, efficient and affordable distribution partner to do the work for you.
Is that it?
Unfortunately not. There are a multitude of other factors to consider, from a web site to launch parties, to the cost of free bottles, and on to cashflow needs, ordering and sales forecasts… the list is a long one.
But, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for what you are doing, all these issues can be a source of enjoyment as well as challenge and seeing your vision gradually take shape and become reality will be immensely satifying.
Your ambitions probably need to be a lot lower than Lady Gaga’s or Conor McGregor’s, ( #or maybe not) but whatever your goals, provided the do your homework and keep your investment in line with your expected sales, there is no reason why your project can’t be successful and great fun.
Who knows?Someday, somewhere down the line, someone may want to pay you a lot of money to buy your brand.
What’s in store for champagne in 2021?
In previous bulletins we have already looked at the shipment figures from champagne in 2020 versus 2019 and no one was surprised that there was an overall decline of 17.9% in volume and of 16.7% in value.
These are pretty dramatic declines over just one year, but in fact it was a better result than some had feared at the start of last year.
Now, one year on from the start of the frenzy that overtook the world last year, there are many signs that consumption and shipments will bounce back gradually in the next few years with sparkling wine forecast to recover more quickly than still wine.
International Wines and Spirits Review reports that sales of sparkling wine, of which champagne is a significant part, are expected to regain 2019 levels by 2023. Longer than most of us would wish, but a positive trend nevertheless.
Meanwhile, hidden amongst all the red ink were a few champagne success stories from last year that deserve a mention:
Sure, the percentage gains look amazing becuse the underlying figures are still small, but
' From little acorns mighty oaks do grow'.
Keep calm and Drink Champagne
Finally in this month’s bulletin, a quirky but appealing story from here in Champagne.
You may have heard of Beer Yoga, a trend that is gathering fans all around the world.
Well, not to be left behind, one enterprising couple at Champagne Louis Brochet has launched Champagne Yoga.
Called ‘Tasting in Full Consciousness’ (Dégustation en Pleine Conscience), the session consists of an hour’s yoga session, outside overlooking the vineyards if the weather is fine, to calm the mind and exercise the body; then a tasting of two of Louis Brochet’s finest cuvées – definitely more up my street than beer yoga.
1st April 2021
CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN - FEBRUARY 2021
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.
In 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).
To illustrate the importance of getting the distribution right and the perils of getting it wrong, it has been reported that the owners of the 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.
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.
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.
At national level, the HVE certificate (Haute Valeur Environmentale) has been promoted by the government.
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.
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.
The second picture shows a plot where some rows are grass covered (1 in 3) and some are not (2 in 3)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Until next month, all the best from Champagne
© 2011-2019 My Man In Champagne