How did Champagne become connected to luxury?

Why is English wine the same price as Champagne?

 The higher price of Champagne is often attributed to the more rigorous processes that the winemakers experience, compared to other sparkling wine producers, such as the harsher climate or the extensive processes of the Méthode Champenoise.

This may be an easy argument when compared to Prosecco, which is made in the tank method, and Cava, where the weather conditions are more consistent throughout vintages. But it does not provide an explanation for why many people feel that English wines should be cheaper than Champagne as the climate in the South East of England is virtually the same as the Champagne region and made using the same method as Champagne – except that here it is referred to as the traditional method.

So why is it perceived that English wines should be cheaper?

It is worth acknowledging that many people don’t share this view. Some experts argue that English wines are actually currently under-priced for their value.

Steven Skelton MW, an English wine industry consultant and the Regional Chair for the UK at the Decanter World Wine Awards, stated:

‘I don’t think in any way English sparkling wines are overpriced,’ said Skelton. ‘In fact I think many of them are undercharging for what is a very high-quality product.’[1]

This makes a lot of sense to me because if I want to purchase a premium Champagne, I would be shopping in the region of £250. Yet for a premium English wine the price-point is typically between £30-£50 (the same price as an entry-level Champagne).

How did Champagne achieve this status?

“Champagne is not the most famous luxury drink brand in the world because it tastes good. It owes its success, yes, to flavour, but also to ruthless and relentless marketing and a near-neurotic level of brand protection.”[2]

Effective marketing and product placement led to the association of Champagne with luxury and exclusivity. What exactly did Champagne do establish itself as a luxury brand? And what can English wines do to market themselves in a similar way?

Champagne and Royalty

Before Champagne was produced as a sparkling wine, the regional still wine was served in coronation festivities across Europe. The French also offered it as a tribute to foreign kings and we are already seeing this trend being followed in English wines.

Her Majesty the Queen served Ridgeview’s Grosvenor Blanc de Blancs 2009 at the state banquet, held at Buckingham Palace, in honour of a visit from Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.

Tamara Roberts, CEO stated;

"We're thrilled that our Grosvenor 2009 was served on such a prestigious occasion and are honoured that it has now been enjoyed at three state banquets including being served to President Obama. This is testament to the British royal family's support and belief in the quality of English sparkling wine on an international stage."[3] 

 Furthermore, Queen Elizabeth II launched her own English Sparkling wine. The 2013 vintage consisted of just 2,000 bottles and was a sell out success. The 2014 vintage has been released on pre-order, available for delivery this autumn.[4]

Champagne in Popular Culture

The success of Champagne can also be attributed its presence in popular culture throughout the ages, as it established a reputation among the middle class and affluent elite of the time.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald 

As the consumer culture expanded towards the end of the 19th century, Champagne became a tool to define class and status. By the first World War, Champagne had achieved such prominence, not only as a luxury, but as a worldwide treasure, that Winston Churchill famously said in 1918:

"Remember, gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!"

 In 1866, the Champagne house Moët commissioned George Leybourne, a famous entertainer in the day, to write and perform songs that would suggest a connection between Champagne and taste, affluence and ultimately the good life. This is an excellent representation of the reach of celebrity endorsements and the power of influencers. George agreed to drink nothing but Champagne in public.

I don’t think it will be long before we start seeing the same trend of English wines being presented by influencers across Facebook and Instagram, as well as further representation from royalty and other British celebrities. This is a very interesting and exciting time for the English wine industry.  

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