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Richard Siddle, comment January 28: Hats off to Champagne

Published:  28 January, 2011

You might have been forgiven for thinking the world as we know was about to come to an end this week following the release of worse than expected GDP figures.

Meanwhile in a parallel universe lives the world of Champagne. No matter how bad the economy might get the Champagne sector remains bullish, confident and optimistic. And thank god for that. If the Champagne houses start panicking then it probably is time to pop on the tin hat.

It was somehow reassuring to hear the assured confidence of Champagne producers during a trip there last week.

Yes, they have seen their sales fall back from an all time high of €4.5 billion in 2007 to €3.7 billion in 2009. But quietly and surely Champagne is now back to €4 billion sales a year.

It is on the verge of announcing final details of its plans to expand the growing areas for Champagnes regardless of the global economy. But times are a changing in Champagne and there are different dynamics at play.

Whilst the strength of the Grand Marques will no doubt carry on regardless, a secondary market has emerged. A sector which has seen the multiples concentrate space, resources and promotions to a new £10-£20 price category for Champagne.

It is also a part of the market that is far closer in price and position to prosecco and sparkling wine and a clear blurring of the lines with mid priced Champagne.

But the Champagne houses are fighting back by introducing a plethora of new cuvées and styles.
The most common of which has to be the extra brut. A style cheekily dismissed by one prominent MW this week as "Emperor's new clothes".

But in many ways much of Champagne's unique appeal lies in its own folklore and world of mystery, mystique and glamour.

If we ever lose that sense of excitement that comes with the pop of a Champagne cork then we really do need to start manning the lifeboats.