Champagne is the ultimate drink of celebration. I am from France and have lived and worked in the US, and what’s different about how the UK approaches champagne is that it goes beyond formal celebrations. Of course champagne is drunk here at weddings, christenings and parties but British people also enjoy it as an aperitif – outside of the champagne region this is very rare. British people intuitively understood that it’s the wine of celebration but also that champagne can create the occasion.
In fact, Britain is the leading country for champagne exports in volume. Last year, we shipped 27 million bottles of champagne to the UK from France at a value of around €431m. For context, the US imports slightly less by volume, around 25.7 million bottles last year, but the value is greater at around €665m.
Champagne is wonderful, it’s fun and it’s a joyful wine and you can always toast people and occasions, even if it’s very informal, with a glass of champagne. When I speak to people many are saying the same thing – that at the end of lockdown we are going to want to celebrate. There have been silver linings to lockdown, of course, but the reality is that this global crisis has brought a lot of hardship to a lot of people. And we’ve had time to reflect on what is important. What we want to do is share and be with the people we love again and in that situation, champagne has its place again – we can pour ourselves a glass to reflect and toast coming together again.
The environment is also going to become even more prominent as an issue than it already has been. Champagne has led the way in environmentally friendly and sustainable methods for the past 25 years. Around 25 years ago, the producers and champagne houses came together and said that we have a wonderful region, which we need to keep improving and we can slow down the overproduction that has been everywhere since the second world war. They realised that we have a moral duty to continue improving the land and the way we produce champagne and to consumers to produce a superior, excellent quality champagne. Champagne was the first wine region to assess its carbon footprint in 2002. Since then, the champagne producers have invested heavily in green issues and sustainability. Over the past 15 years, we’ve reduced the carbon footprint by 20 per cent, 90 per cent of industrial waste is recycled and 100 per cent of wine production effluent is now recycled. At the moment, 20 per cent of the area has an environmental certification and we’re aiming for that to be 100 per cent by 2030. By 2050, our objective is to reduce the carbon footprint per bottle by 75 per cent. Perhaps, most importantly, 100 per cent of the growers in the region are committed to continuous improvement.
I think that by buying champagne consumers are choosing a wine that really cares and has cared for 20 years or more. It says ‘I choose quality, craftsmanship and excellence versus large volume and industrial production’.
The best champagne for you is the champagne you like best that you can afford. There is a wide diversity of styles of champagne and you might not choose the same style for a romantic evening with your partner as you would for a wedding or party of 100 people. When someone asks me to recommend champagne, I always ask what kind of wine they like to drink. If you like a big, full-bodied Shiraz from Australia I’ll recommend a full-bodied champagne, maybe a blanc de noirs with more pinot noir and meunier. If someone says they love burgundy then I know they like rich, complex chardonnay so I’ll recommend a vintage or prestige cuvee chardonnay champagne. The other tip I always give is to buy from a reputable retailer and ask for their advice. I always visit retailers and whenever I do I know I’ll find a variety I’m not familiar with. There are 340 champagne houses in the region and 16,100 growers, half of which produce their own champagne, meaning that there are around 6,000 champagne brands in total. So I always find something new; we’re spoilt for choice!
There are many champagne trends we can look forward to in coming years, and some that are here to stay. Rosé is certainly a trend that is here to stay – it accounts for more than 10 per cent of champagne sales in the UK. There wasn’t any rosé in Britain 25 years ago – Switzerland was the big rosé market – but now we’re no longer talking about a trend, we’re talking about an established style. It’s very in demand in Britain. Secondly ultra brut champagne is a trend that will endure. Ultra brut means that no dosage, no extra sugar is added, in the final stages of champagne production. This style goes very well with fish, seafood, sushi, and sashimi.
Another thing I have noticed is when I was travelling around London to bars in Hoxton, Clerkenwell, Borough is that 25-35 year olds would spend £20 on a cocktail but weren’t ordering champagne. It’s because champagne isn’t exciting enough to put on Instagram – you just pour it in a glass and that’s it. So last year we started working with around 60 bartenders to reinvent champagne service. I’m not talking about cocktails or mixing, but a reinvention of how champagne is presented in bars that should attract new 25-35-year-old consumers to champagne. And the fourth trend is eco packaging – all of the brands are looking at it. It’s a natural progression for a region so concerned with sustainability. We will retain the beautiful presentation of champagne but will make it greener.
The champagnois are always ahead of trends. I’ve worked with them for many years and I’m always impressed by their resilience – they have successfully weathered so many crises since the beginning of the 20th century and they continue to be resilient and visionary. It all stems from the fact that in many wine regions you have a lot of appellations but in champagne we have one. We are all united behind one name and one region, that of champagne.
The Champagne Bureau is the education arm of the Champagne industry, find out more about the UK arm at champagne.fr