Is Champagne losing its kudos, its pulling power?

Although Champagne prices for the major brands continue to increase, reflecting the fact that grape prices in the region have risen continuously over the past two decades between the 1993 and 2013 harvests, UK supermarkets continued to sell some champagne around the £10 mark at the year-end. Why? Clearly they can’t be making any margin selling fizz at this price. It is simply to pull in the punters.

MichelLetterDGofMumm&PJatPernoRicardThe owners of the big houses worry that selling this very cheap champagne may be damaging the generic image of Champagne and it may also be making it harder for them to sell their international brands at £30 to £35 a bottle or more – several are now over £40 rrp. As Michel Letter the boss at G.H.Mumm at Perrier-Jouët said recently: “With discounts as large as this the consumer might think that something is wrong with the wine and I am afraid of this. You can have champagne selling at two different prices with one that is twice as expensive, giving the explanation that the grapes are sourced from grand cru vineyards or the wine is aged longer, but three times higher starts to be too big a difference.”

But newspaper columnists still like to use champagne as a symbol of extravagance, luxuryBollinger La Grande Annee Rosé 1999 and celebration and as a gauge of economic well-being, sometimes working it into the most unlikely stories. Under the heading:  ‘Champagne flows as house owners see surge in prices’ The Times newspaper ran a story last Saturday (18 January) saying house owners might want to break out the champagne as their properties were now worth £28,000 more on average than they were in January 2013, or £27,991 to be exact. The writer, Deidre Hipwell, clearly a lover of pink fizz, noted this was the equivalent of 560 bottles of gift bottles of Bollinger Rosé at £49.99 a pop.

It seems despite the aggressive pricing of supermarkets in the UK, mirroring what has been happening in France over the past three or four months, brand Champagne is retaining its cachet, its unique position as the drink of celebration. But the fear is this ‘two-tier’ market may cause damage in the longer term.

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