"Last year the UK imported 34.2m bottles of champagne while the US imported just 20.5m"by Barry Smith / April 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
Figures released in March by the Comité Interprofessionnel Vin Champagne showed that the UK continues to be the largest Champagne importer in the world; a position they have held since 1996. This is a striking fact in the current economic climate of austerity. It shows just how resilient the luxury market is. For Champagne, more than any other wine, is associated with celebration, making it the wine of choice to commemorate birthdays, marriages, graduations and promotions. But there are now plenty of alternatives; from Prosecco and Cava, to the sparkling wines of the South of England. So how will Champagne maintain its grip?
It’s a question that was exercising the Comité Champagne during its campaign to secure world heritage status for the Champagne region from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, as they did in July 2015. The award not only recognises the history of the region but urges the growers and producers to conserve and enhance the legacy of Champagne, and that means finding new ways to entice consumers in an increasingly crowded market. So how have they been setting about this task?
Intriguingly, for such a traditional wine region, the Comité Champagne has embraced the digital age. We usually think of the digital world as furthest from the world of wine, restricted as it is—for the time being—to vision and hearing, and unable, therefore, to capture the senses of touch, taste and smell that make up our tasting experience. However, there is more to the experience of wine than simply tasting it, and tasting is often enhanced by having some sense of how a wine was produced and where it came from. This is where digital tools and resources can aid the experience of tasting.
Perhaps the most visually dazzling of these digital tools is 360˚ Champagne—an augmented reality tour of the region, where we glide across the vineyards and the villages before entering the cellars and surveying the Champagne houses. I first experienced this impressive short film wearing an Oculus Rift headset, and its immersive nature makes you feel you have been to the region. In addition, there is a new e-learning platform, with the slightly daunting name, Champagne Campus. It is stratified into three levels of learning for what the French call novices, enthusiasts and lovers. Available on Mac, PC, smartphone and tablet, it entices us to find our level of familiarity with Champagne by answering a few questions. The desire to educate and expand our knowledge of Champagne is clear from the design of the pathways. But who is it for, and what will it achieve? For some users, it will be the chance to learn things they always wanted to know. Then again, it is also intended as a tool for wine professionals, including sommeliers, to develop their knowledge and keep up to date, and this later ambition is relevant to the future of the region. For if we go back to the figures, there is an underlying message that might point to something important for the future of these wines.
Last year, the UK imported 34.2m bottles of Champagne while the United States imported just 20.5m. However, in terms of monetary value, the US comes out ahead spending €514m on Champagne to the UK’s €512m. It seems likely that the reason for the difference in spending is that US buying are seeking more vintage Champagnes and prestige cuvées. It is intriguing to speculate that when the burgeoning English sparkling wine industry comes of age, perhaps more UK citizens will opt for a home-grown celebratory bottle. That will still leave the vintage wines of Champagne for the luxury market. And to find out how the bubbles of these wines caress the tongue and why they are made in some years and not others, the secrets may now be open to all online and in the Cloud.