Champagne covers just 34,500 hectares, yet is spread over 301 villages and 19,000 growers – including a good many part-time growers with tiny parcels of grapes.
The trade is dominated by the big Champagne houses. 261 Champagne houses are responsible for 71% of sales yet own just 12% of vineyard land. Champagne houses make up a whopping 88% of all Champagne exports – outside of Europe this increases to 97% as few growers have the means to market their goods so far afield.
Of the 19,000 growers in Champagne only 5,112 sell Champagne under their own label and of those just 2,124 actually make what they sell accounting for just 18% of grower Champagne sales. Many growers will have long-term contracts with the big Champagne houses, some relationships have been going for generations or more.
Groups of growers have banded together to form cooperatives, 44 cooperatives make and sell Champagne under their own label and account for just over 7% of total Champagne sales.
The growers and coops collectively are known as vignoble. Champagne growers own 88% of the vineyards but account for just 22% of sales (29% including coops).
Each bottle of Champagne will have a two letters on the registeration code to identify whether it was made by a grower, co-op, or Champagne house etc.
In 2007, the top ten Champagne brands represented 39% of UK Champagne sales and Champagne sales were up 10%. Moët is the number one Champagne brand by a clear mile. The co-operative Champagne Nicholas Feuillate burst into the top ten at a very worthy number 5 despite being so small pre 2000 it was counted in ‘others’.
Around 300 million bottles of Champagne are produced each year, the vast majority is still
consumed on home soil. In 2010, the French kept hold of 185m bottles of Champagne, the biggest export market for Champagne is the UK at around 35m bottles followed by the US at 16.9m bottles. Compare this to the global sparkling wine market where Germany is the biggest consuming country followed by France, Russia and Italy.
Reassuringly, given the economic climate Champagne sales have bounced back and exports to both the UK and US are in double digit growth (16.3% and 34.9% respectively). Buyers own brands have helped keep Champagne sales afloat, while premium brands like
LVMH’s Krug has reported bumper profits – showing the super rich are still spending.
Bollinger (Aӱ-Champagne) 100,000 cases
Bollinger is an independent Champagne house founded in 1829, in 1865 it started importing low dosage wines to the UK which was counter to the then trend for much sweeter wines. It was clearly doing something right though as in 1884 Bollinger received the royal warrant from Queen Victoria to be Purveyor to the Royal household.
Elizabeth Law ‘Lily’ Bollinger is an important figure in Bollinger’s history and under her stewardship sales doubled to 1 million. Lily was said to have slept in the Bollinger’s cellars during the bombing of Aӱ during the war.
Bollinger owns the registered trademark RD- récemment dégorgé – and aims to disgorge every bottle no more than 12 weeks prior to shipment.
Bollinger is known for its Pinot Noir dominated blends, many of its base wines are vinified in old oak barrels to give complexity and longevity. Bollinger Vielles Vignes is the benchmark Blanc de Noirs, made in minute quantities from ungrafted low yielding vines from vineyards which have never been affected by phylloxera.
Bollinger keeps 500,000 corked magnums of reserve wines in its cellars for assemblage.
In 2005, Bollinger bought the Ayala Champagne brand.
Krug is the most expensive and least consumed Champagne on the planet. It has its lovers and haters but there is no denying it is special. I was lucky enough to try some recently and am totally sold.
It is owned by LVMH but is still family run – the winemaker is Henri Krug and ever since the founder Joseph Krug and his son Paul Krug worked together in the 1860s, a father and team has worked side by side for decades to ensure the Krug family style and palate is passed on.
Krug does not make originary non vintage Champagnes, it specialises in prestige Champagne. The high price Krug demands allows for a ‘ruthless degree of vine selection’. All of its base wines are barrel-fermented in 205L oak casks
Its Grand cuvées receive 35-50% of reserve wines from between six to ten vintages spanning over 15 years. Such special quality demands long ageing and the youngest Krug Champagne will have had at least 5-7 years lees contact.
LVMH is the world’s largest luxury goods group with a significant interest in the most luxury of drinks – Champagne.
It owns Moët & Chandon and Dom Pérignon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Mercier as well as premium spirits Hennessy cognac and Belvedere Vodka and has a stake in Château d’Yquem.
This year, it has reported bumper sales of Louis Vuitton handbags and Krug Champagne -a sign the recession is not dampening the spending of the super rich.
Dom Pérignon is Moët & Chandon’s prestige Champagne owned by LVMH.
Dom Pérignon 1921 was the world’s first prestige Champagne and launched at a time when the price of Champagne had plummeted following the great depression.
It has its home at the Abbey of Hautvilliers, north of Epernay – where the Benedictine Monk Dom Pérignon was in charge of the cellars. The Hautvilliers vineyards remain at the heart of Cuvée Dom Pérignon.
While history attributes Dom Pérignon to inventing Champagne, this is not quite the case, although we do know he devoted his life to improving the still wines of Champagne and many of the practices he instigated are still in place today i.e. severe pruning, low
yields, blending, careful harvesting etc.
Moët et Chandon is the number one Champagne brand in the world, and sells over twice the amount of its nearest competitor. One in four bottles of exported Champagne is said to be Moët and in the US, Moët accounts for over half of the market.
It is now part of LVMH, the luxury good conglomerate. In 1962 it was quoted on the Paris Stock exchange, later buying shares in Ruinart – the oldest Champagne house. It bought Christian Dior perfume in 1969 and merged with Hennessy cognac in 1971.
In 1987 it merged with Louis Vuitton, owners of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin to form LVMH.
Pol Roger is one of the smaller Grand Marques, which was founded in 1849 and is still family owned.
Famously, Pol Roger was Winston Churchill’s preferred tipple and for 25 years after his death all non-vintage labels of Pol Roger exported to Britain where edged in black in memory. A special Sir Winston Churchill cuvee was later created.
Its cellars are said to house 6.5 million bottles, 5 years supply and are deeper and
cooler than most in Champagne.
Now owned by LVMH, Veuve Clicquot still celebrates its Grande Dame, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot-Pondarsin. She was married in the cellars and after her husband died in 1805 following just 7 year’s of marriage, the 27 year old Nicole-Barbe was left in charge of the business. She proved herself to be an astute merchant, and fantastic entrepreneur and innovator.
She appointed Antoine Müller as Chef des Caves who was involved in the creation of the remuage system and helped increase the quality and reputation of the house.
Veuve Clicqout famously defied Napolean’s blockades to export Champagne to Russia.
The house style is based on Pinot Noir, particularly Pinot Noir grown in the village of Bouzy where the Veuve Clicquot has a large number of holdings.
The first vintage of La Grande Dame prestige Champagne was 1969 and was launched in 1977 to mark the house’s 200th birthday – the grapes for the cuvee come from eight Grand Cru vineyards originally owned by La Grande Dame herself.
Nicholas Feuillatte is owned by a Cooperative-Manipulant - CVC (Centre Vinicole de la Champagne). The super-cooperative is the largest of its kind and is made up of 85 different cooperatives. CVC bought the Nicholas Feuillate brand in 1986 and since then it has grown to become one of the top five Champagnes in the world.
Nicholas Feuillatte has enough high quality vineyards to make it capable of producing very good champagne. Exports started to take off in the early 1990s with 700,000 bottles sold in 1994, by 2004 it sold 7 million bottles around the world and 1 million bottles in the UK alone.
By 2006, the brand which was only 30 years old became the top 5 Champagne brand worldwide, stocked in 75 different countries. It is the market leader in ¼ bottles.