Comité tries to predict demand in difficult market

Yield for 2019 harvest set at 10,200kgs/ha

Champagne producers agreed to set the maximum yield level for the 2019 harvest at 10,200kilos per hectare, 600kgs/ha down on the base level of 10,800kgs/ha originally* announced for the 2018 harvest. If this level of yield is achieved in 2019, it will produce around 300m bottles. The CIVC Comité that represents the two sides of the champagne business — the (grape) growers and the merchant houses (négociants) – see this as the appropriate level to provide a suitable supply of champagne to meet future predicted demand. Or as the Comité put it: “This volume ensures a supply consistent with the needs of operators and maintains a balanced stock level for the sector.”

When they make this decision on the yield level in late July, with the harvest start typically six to eight weeks away, as well as considering the approaching harvest’s potential in terms of quality, health and size, plus the level of stocks and reserves currently held by producers, they look at current and future worldwide demand for champagne. It’s this last element that’s the trickiest; predicting demand. With issues at home, French domestic sales still account for nearly half of all champagne consumed (48.7% or 147.1m bottles in 2018) and in the two major export markets, the UK which is the largest by volume and the USA, the most valuable, this decision was particularly difficult this time.

As the Comité commented in its 24 July statement: “In the first half of the year [2019], Champagne sales increased further thanks to exports. It [value] is close to 5 billion euros over 12 rolling months despite decreasing shipments pronounced on a French market affected, including the consequences of an increased legislative framework of promotions in supermarkets. The resumption of shipments to the UK is only related to the precautionary measures taken on the assumption of a hard Brexit. The dynamism of most third countries, subject to uncertainties on world trade, will probably not fully offset the decline in volumes on the French market.”

This statement needs some interpretation. Worldwide demand for champagne is currently flat with shipments down 1.5% to the end of May 2019, while the MAT year-end figure is predicted to be around the 300m bottle mark. In the French domestic market — where 48.7% of champagne was sold in 2018 by volume but only 41.7% by value – it appears that French legislation banning the sale of champagne at under cost is being more rigorously applied. This is accelerating the overall decline in sales in France.

Shipments to the UK, which went up in the first half year only did so because of producers and retailers stockpiling in advance of the previous Brexit deadline of 29 March. Something it was fairly easy and relatively risk-free to do as at that time, just after the important year-end sales peak, as warehouses were fairly empty. The Champenois don’t believe this is sign of the UK market recovering any time soon. The Comité statement doesn’t even mention anything about President Trump’s threat to impose increased import duties on French wine into the USA, which would also be likely to have a negative impact on sales there.

What the important last quarter of 2019 will bring in terms of sales – it’s in these three months a disproportionately large percentage of champagne is purchased — is therefore very hard to predict. If there is an unexpected surge in sales, there is plenty of supply, however. Stocks are relatively high and after the bumper and high quality 2018 harvest, the average reserve held across the appellation sits at 7,750 kg/ha, very close to the maximum level of 8,000kgs/ha, and equivalent to around 230m bottles.
*While the yield for the 2018 was originally set at 10,800kgs/ha, partly because of its high quality, the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO) later agreed to allow producers to add 4,700 kg/ha to the reserve (providing their reserves did not exceed the maximum of 8,000 kgs/ha) so producers could harvest up to 15,500kgs/ha.

Chef de cave merry-go-round* (Part One)

Dominique Demarville off to Laurent-Perrier next year

The chef de cave merry-go-round in Champagne continues apace. It must be a bit of blow for Moët-Hennessy to lose their highest profile head winemaker, Dominique Demarville so soon after the retirement of the experienced Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon (at the end of 2018). Veuve Clicquot winemakers don’t usually depart the job until they retire, they are not meant to leave in their prime and at 53 Demarville is one of the most experienced winemakers in the appellation, arguably at the peak of his powers.

He’s done a great job in the 13 years he’s been at Clicquot, but as in the nature of the job, only his first solo Vintage Réserve wine from 2008 has been released so far (they didn’t make the straight vintage in 2006 at Clicquot, though Demarville was involved in producing the La Grande Dame 2006 white and pink, the latter one of the best rosés from Clicquot I’ve ever tasted). It takes time for your legacy to be seen and appreciated.

The 2008 has around 5% of the juice fermented and aged in oak casks, a change Demarville introduced, and in prioritising efforts to make Yellow Label a better, more consistent blend with added complexity, he’s introduced some oak in this too. He also blended and launched ‘Extra Old, Extra Aged’ a low dosage (3g/l), multi vintage blend made from Clicquot’s substantial collection of reserve wines aimed partly at shining a light on the quality elements behind Yellow Label, but also a fascinating wine in its own right.

Laurent-Perrier chef de cave Michel Fauconnet is expected to retire soon

When Demarville moves to Laurent-Perrier in January 2020 to work alongside and then take over from their current chef de cave Michel Fauconnet, the palette of flavours he works with will move from a Pinot Noir to Chardonnay emphasis, but in prestige cuvée Grande Siècle – a three vintage blend – he’ll surely find some similarities to his work on Clicquot’s Extra Old, Extra Aged. He’ll also have the chance to make a non-dosé champagne for the first time in over two decades in Ultra Brut and its new cousin Ultra Brut Blanc de Blancs. And who wouldn’t be thrilled to be taking over production of Salon.

While everyone in Champagne was shocked to hear Demarville was leaving Clicquot, it was bit of surprise to find that his former colleague at G.H.Mumm, Didier Mariotti – they worked together there for three vintages – has been lined up to take the job at Clicquot. Mariotti, takes up the position on 26 August, just before the 2019 harvest begins, working alongside Demarville initially to learn the ropes before his appointment as cellar master is confirmed in January 2020.

Didier Mariotti will still be working with mainly Pinot Noir based blends

Unlike Demarville before him, Mariotti didn’t want to leave G.H.Mumm where he had continued the good work that he and Demarville initiated together, first in greatly improving the Cordon Rouge NV blend, but more recently in sharpening the vintage offering – 2006 was his first solo effort and very decent – and making top class Blanc de Blancs Cramant (formerly known, much more helpfully, as Crémant de Cramant) and Blanc de Noirs, Verzenay.

The stylistic change facing Mariotti will be smaller than that facing Demarville, as both G.H. Mumm and Clicquot champagnes are black fruit dominant blends. Having spent time at Moët & Chandon and Nicolas Feuillatte before G.H.Mumm, Mariotti will have worked at four of the five largest brands in Champagne. He should therefore be pretty used to the way these large international drinks companies operate with the management in Paris and not in Reims.

For his part one suspects Demarville will glad to concentrate more on the winemaking side of things, rather than the international PR role the winemakers at LVMH are also expected to excel at. Fauconnet has always been allowed to stay largely out of the limelight at Laurent-Perrier, and certainly doesn’t go on global tours of major international markets every time a new vintage Is released. I’m not even sure he’s ever been to the UK in his capacity as LP chef de cave.

*This analysis column was first published by Drinks International online on 10 July 2019

Mariotti to replace Demarville at Veuve Clicquot

Didier Mariotti in Mumm’s vineyard in Verzenay

Veuve Clicquot have announced that Didier Mariotti, the former G.H. Mumm head winemaker who left the Pernod Ricard owned house in September last year, has been lined up to take over from Dominique Demarville. Mariotti will join Clicquot from 26 August to work alongside his former colleague Demarville, for what Clicquot describes as a “transitional period, before being appointed cellar master and wine director from 1 January 2020”.

This move is made possible by the surprising news that Demarville is leaving Clicquot at the Continue reading “Mariotti to replace Demarville at Veuve Clicquot”

Wine of the Week

Geoffroy Expression Brut Premier Cru NV

Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy with his daughter Sacha at Taste Champagne London last month

As Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy reminded me last month, while introducing me to his daughter Sacha, I first visited him in the early 1990s just after he started out on his own. He was one of a small band of quality minded independent growers I discovered on my first few visits to Champagne – all of whom I still greatly admire — a group which included Pierre Larmandier, Didier Gimonnet, Jérôme Prévost plus Philippe and Elizabeth Chartogne-Taillet (whose son Alexandre now runs things).

Fast forward some three decades and the family winery is now in spacious premises with an Continue reading “Wine of the Week”

Waitrose still boasts one of the best Champagne ranges in High Street

While the Waitrose Blanc de Noirs, currently our ‘wine of the week’, is no longer on offer, with Father’s Day fast approaching there are still a couple of other champagnes on a deal that are drinking really well and represent great value.

The Waitrose Brut Vintage 2007 (the ‘05 preceded it), which has been the grocer’s vintage champagne offering for well over a year now, is at or near its apogee. It’s a rich, generous style with a majority of Chardonnay in the blend (52%) plus Continue reading “Waitrose still boasts one of the best Champagne ranges in High Street”

Wine of the Week

Waitrose Blanc de Noirs Brut NV

A 100% Pinot Noir based Blanc de Noirs all based on the 2014 harvest

Back on great form this succulent, apple tarte tatin fizz is simply a delightfully moreish drink. Made for Waitrose by Alexandre Bonnet which is based in Les Riceys, the largest single cru in the Champagne appellation, it shows how good Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bars can be — for those that didn’t already know and haven’t tasted such excellent examples as those made in this southernmost part of Champagne by the likes of Continue reading “Wine of the Week”

Demarville to leave Clicquot and join Laurent-Perrier as cellar master

Dominique Demarville

Veuve Clicquot cellar master Dominique Demarville is leaving the company at the end of the year to take up the position as chef de cave at Laurent-Perrier. Recruited to replace him at Clicquot by the retiring cellar master Jacques Peters back in 2006, Demarville has apparently again been sought out by the soon to retire incumbent chef de cave at Laurent-Perrier, Michel Fauconnet, planning his succession. Fauconnet is 67 this year and has worked at Laurent-Perrier since 1973.

This news about one of the highest profile winemakers in the whole of Champagne, comes from the reliably well informed website of Sophie Claeys. It was Claeys who was first with the Continue reading “Demarville to leave Clicquot and join Laurent-Perrier as cellar master”