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What The Market Says
Champagnes - the New Leaders at Harrods
Friday, 5th February, 2010  - David Farmer

First stop in London was to Harrods to view the recently renovated wine store to see if I could pinch any ideas. Innovative and neat, particularly the lighting and I will pass my thoughts on to a few retail clients. It was later, while viewing the Champagne selection that I realised the world of wine is shifting again. Most consumers and I include those with lots of money have great trouble in really deciding how good the contents are. Thus how the brand package looks has become very important in the last few decades.

Champagne was the first to realise, to use a useful expression, to 'sell the sizzle not the sausage'. Thus to sell a wine that is really quite common the package is very important and in a country that creates amazing perfume bottles this was quite easy. The prestige Champagne brands such as Dom Perignon, Crystal and the art nouveau inspired Perrier-Jouet command excellent prices and are most profitable for all along the feeding chain and the consumer seems happy to pay.

But can this be taken to another level; one where the contents are almost superfluous? Indeed it can as many customers for Champagne I suspect do not give a hoot about what is inside but are very concerned about the look. There in front of me were two excellent examples neither of which I had heard of; Ace of Spades Armand de Brignac and Diadema Blanc de Blancs Millésime and both were very expensive. I quickly learnt that pop stars love the Ace of Spades concept...


Beyonce with Jay-Z and the latter celebrating with P-Diddy

The Armand de Brignac brand is made by the Cattier family, with the family brand being an old budget favourite of mine. Indeed I influenced the Karedis family that owned the Sydney retail chain Theos to import this brand. Theos was bought by Liquorland so you can now find the Cattier brand in Vintage Cellars and it is good and cheap. With each shipment we would also toss in 20 or so boxes of Cattier Chigny Les Roses, their prestige wine. Alas, could we influence our customers to buy it-not in your life. I will bet a pound to a peanut that this is the wine that is now packaged as Ace of Spades.

A recent tasting by Fine Champagne Magazine, a journal I know nothing about, recently rated the Ace of Spades as the world's best Champagne. We all get lucky sometime. The order was:

96/100 Armand de Brignac Brut Gold Ace of Spades.
95/100 Dom Perignon 2000
94/100 Mumm Rene Lalou 1998
94/100 Roederer Crystal 2002
94/100 Egerier de Pannier 2000
94/100 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill 1998
93/100 Dom Perignon Rose 1998
93/100 Jacquart Blanc de Blanc 1999
93/100 Roederer Crystal Rose 2002
93/100 Chartagne Taillet Fiacre NV

Many other critics like the wine as well I learnt from the web site.

As for the Diadema Blanc de Blanc, well this is a brand of the direct selling house of Pieroth. The one and the same that sold oddly flavoured German wines to Australians in the 1970's and may still be at it for all I know. It seems though they have reinvented their business model. I quote from the web-site:

"Each and every detail of the label has been carefully attended to and obtained thanks to the collaboration of the best craftsmen we could find on the market for each single component:
* SWAROVSKI Crystals
* Label moulds are made by the most leading edge Italian technology companies
* A leader company in the sector makes the glue used for our labels, the glue has been invented by the aeronautical industry
* The most skilled artisans in the sector deal with inserting the crystals on the vintage year and label
* Before applying the label to the bottle, our Estate carries out quality control on each single piece

"We wished our Diadema Champagne bottle to bear a different label from that of our wines: we thus decided upon a gold coloured background with a giant D in relief, inlaid with gold coloured Swarovski crystals and with a smaller, gold coloured Swarovski crystal at every corner of the label. The Diadema brand has also been engraved on the label."

And the Champagne is made this way.

".... is the fruit of a lengthy and attentive quest for top quality, rigour and great professionalism on the part of the company that produces Diadema Champagne."

So what should the standard, but boringly packaged prestigious brands do? A new wealthy customer has appeared with very different tastes. Well I am pleased to report that I noted a Dom Perignon magnum coloured silver which should reflect nicely in a night club. Heaven help us, where will it all end as bubbles give way to bling.

P.S. In passing I would like to note that Champagne drinkers are the fussiest label drinkers of all over wines which show quite small differences. And before a few outraged readers respond I will remind them that through the 1980's I quite fancied my Champagne palate as I helped tutor two staff to win the CIVC Champagne award for professionals in Australia and this was over six years and took a lot of drinking.

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