Champagne Bulletin November 2020

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I’m writing this month’s bulletin a few days earlier than usual because, at the beginning of December I’ll be travelling to my house in Champagne to spend the next few months there. It will be a chance to meet up with some old friends, film a lot of new videos and, of course, taste some superb champagnes, but that won’t leave too much time for writing, so here are a few thoughts and observations about what’s been going on in and around Champagne in November.

Reasons to be cheerful

(No, not a reference to that great 1970s song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads)

Reasons to be cheerfulChampagne is so closely associated with good times and celebrations that you may be wondering whether anyone will be drinking champagne at the end of this extraordinary year which, for many, has held so much uncertainty and downright suffering.

It’s a fair question, but there are a number of indicators that suggest that champagne has lost little or none of its appeal and that this year, more than ever, people need something to be positive about and what better way to raise the spirts than to open a bottle of champagne. Let’s look first at the shipment figures.

The latest shipment figures to the end of September show that

  • Total shipments were only 9.9 % lower than in September 2019
  • More importantly, the Moving Annual Total for January to September (MAT) shows a total of almost 256 million bottles shipped during this period (-14.8% versus last year).

To put this in context, remember that 300 million bottles shipped for the year is what was being mooted before the onset of ‘you know what’.

  • If the monthly shortfall versus last year holds at -10% or less during the next three crucial months, the annual total for 2020 may end up at 260 million or even 270 million bottles which would be a far cry from some of the more pessimistic forecasts of 6 months ago when a collapse to 200 million was being put forward as a possibility.
  • It’s also worth noting that it’s the small independent champagne makers (Vignerons) whose sales are holding up better than the cooperatives or the big brands ( Maison). This is mainly because the vignerons sell most of their production in France and their prices are generally lower than those of bigger brands. A sign perhaps that people are more cautious in their spending at the moment?

But why should we expect champagne sales and shipments in the last three months of 2020 to be positive?

There is not much other than anecdotal evidence to point to, however there are signs that an increase in off-premise consumption of champagne is helping to offset the closure of large parts of the on-trade, although it cannot entirely compensate for those loses.

This would suggest that, as Maxime Toubart, president of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons said

“Les consommateurs ne boudent pas le champagne

Consumers are not turning away from and denying themselves the pleasure of champagne!

If that is true, expect a surge in sales of champagne when we finally emerge from the current doldrums. May that be sooner rather than later.

Champagne as an investment

Live Ex 1You may not think about champagne as an investment vehicle, but the fact of the matter is that those who have invested in champagne are doing very nicely for themselves.

At the moment there are just a handful of famous brands that are considered to be investment material; the leading brands are Dom Pérignon and Louis Roederer Cristal - pretty much every release of these brands is quoted on wine investment platforms.

In what you might call the second rank you’ll find, Krug, Salon, Taittinger (Comtes de Champagne), Pol Roger (Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill) and Bollinger (Grand Année) and, in recent years, Philipponnat (Clos des Goisses).

 When I say ‘second rank, I don’t mean  to imply that these brands are inferior in quality to the first two, but rather that the number of bottles produced is lower and / or that only certain cuvees released by these houses are considered for investment .

A few cuvées from other brands are sometimes traded, these include Laurent-Perrier, Charles Heidsieck, Henri Giraud and Billecart Salmon.

The prices are very much dependent on the scores given to each wine by leading wine writers, but the most highly-rated vintages trade for prices not far below £2,000/case and show handsome growth too.

If you’d like to find out more, check out Live-Ex one of the leading platforms for wine investment

Confidence in the future

IWA 5Those of you reading this bulletin who have contacted me to explore the idea of creating your own champagne brand may be interested in this story about someone who has definitely not lost either his appetite for adventure, his skill as a wine maker or his conviction that the future holds many opportunities. He is Richard Geoffroy who for some 28 years was the chef de cave at Dom Pérignon.

Richard was born and raised in a champagne making family but in his teenage years decided to train as a doctor, but no sooner had he completed his medical training than the lure of wine and champagne persuaded him to start training all over again, this time as a student of viticulture and oenology.

I got to know Richard well during the time I worked in Epernay at Moët & Chandon’s head office (Moët is the company that owns the Dom Pérignon brand) and we worked together in Japan on several occasions.

During these times Richard’s fascination with Japan and Japanese cuisine became very apparent. It therefore didn’t surprise me as much as it may have surprised others, when I learned that, after his retirement at the end of 2018, he decided to create his own brand of sake called IWA5.

Launching a new, high-quality and fairly expensive wine brand (IWA retails at $150) at a time when much of the world is thinking of cutting back and dropping prices is not for the faint hearted, but it is said that the smartest business people see opportunities when others see only problems.

Of course, the current circumstances are throwing up some unusual challenges - as Richard puts it “I’m living the most important project of my life from a distance”, but that hasn’t stopped the project from going ahead and  IWA5 is gaining distribution in many prestige outlets across Asia and gaining critical acclaim. Launches in Europe are planned for the coming months.

It’s looking like another triumph for Richard.

To discover a little more, here’s a useful article from club oenologique

Now is always a good time to learn more

Whether you want to create your own champagne brand or simply to indulge your love of ‘the king of wines and the wine of kings’, learning is always a good choice, but it doesn’t have to be a hard slog - it should be fun too.

My Champagne Expert screen shot 1That’s why I created My Champagne Expert – an online champagne course based on everything I experienced during 17 years living and working in Champagne.

If you’re a champagne lover at any level, you’ll want to check out My Champagne Expert and you can do that by clicking on thw link below.

Here you’ll find details about each of the 10 modules and meet some of the champagne makers who feature in the 50 + videos in the course.

With Christmas fast approaching, give yourself an early Christmas present and learn more about champagne than most sommeliers learn in a lifetime.

Here’s the link to discover more and I look forward to seeing you on the inside.

Jiles Halling

November 2020