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 similarly surprising, if less shocking, news last September, that the newly appointed chef de cave at Piper Heidsieck, Séverine Frerson was leaving Piper after only weeks in the job, to take over from Hervé Deschamps when he retires as chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët. Deschamps has been at Perrier-Jouët since in 1983, and head winemaker there since 1993.
The Veuve Clicquot cellar-master position is traditionally a ‘job for life’. Demarville now 53 is only the sixth man to hold the reigns since 1890 and his five predecessors have all retired in the position, three of them spending over 40 years in the job. One of the nicest people you could wish to meet in Champagne, with a top-class reputation for his winemaking skills, before Clicquot, Demarville worked at G.H. Mumm for a dozen years, making great strides in restoring the reputation of this house’s wines. The move represents quite a coup for Laurent-Perrier. No-one at either Laurent-Perrier or Veuve Clicquot was available to comment on this dramatic news.
One of the main reasons that champagne houses covet working with the leading airlines is they like the exposure for their brands. They want to be seen as the preferred pour in the first or business class cabin. Partly because this is an affluent audience that’s difficult to reach, they will even agree relatively unprofitable deals to get the listing, though of course they are at pains to deny this.
It’s very hard for a champagne brand to get rid of a negative image. Years of ownership by the Rémy-Cointreau drinks group (they also used to have Krug in their grasp), which better understands the spirits market, did a good deal of harm to Piper-Heidsieck’s reputation, something which in Champagne essentially rests on the quality of your mainstream non-vintage cuvée, likely to account for more than 80% of your sales.
The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one. Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?
I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.
I bumped into Justin Apthorp, champagne buyer at Majestic, at the London Wine Fair at Olympia last week, feeling slightly guilty about my recent post on their pricing policy for champagne — High pricing flatters discounts offered at Majestic. He didn’t approve. Before I had even asked him a question he said he’d read the post and wanted to point out that Majestic customers very rarely purchased single bottles of champagne, so in effect the [much more competitive] two bottle price was the norm.
He didn’t want to talk on the record generally about champagne pricing in the UK (which is a shame because I know his comments would make interesting and uncomfortable reading for champagne suppliers and supermarket retailers alike) but did make the quick aside that it seemed to be more than a coincidence that all the major champagne houses have been putting their prices up together, and at a time when sales are falling.
Majestic’s policy of, let us say, emphasising the discounts it offers, has of course been influenced by the supermarkets’ ‘false’ half price deals on champagnes that are not remotely worth the claimed full retail price. And to its credit Majestic certainly hasn’t aped that policy. In fact the company has some very decent current offers, particularly under its ‘buy two save 33% deals’, with big name brands featured like Bollinger (£33.31 for Special Cuvée); Pol Roger Réserve (also £33.31); Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé (£29.98) and Piper Heidsieck £23.32.
And if any of its customers do want to buy a single bottle of champagne in their minimum purchase of six bottles there are also good single bottle price deals on Taittinger Brut – down from £42 to £25– plus three wines from Ruinart, including the sought after Blanc de Blancs and Rosé styles both priced at £41.66 when they are more regularly featured at well over £50.
As we near the end of November, so the promotional activity at the supermarkets hots up with lots of copycat deals as the grocers try to match anything their competitors put out. Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top, a basic level non-vintage brut, is being pushed by Sainsbury’s, Tesco and ASDA who all have it priced around the £15 mark. Sainsbury’s have gone one step further cutting the single bottle price to £12.49 a bottle, as a reader near Oxford spotted. Perhaps to better the Co-op’s deal on Piper Heidsieck, they have also extended their offer on this brand, and cut the price further to £18 a bottle.
In the latest competitive move ASDA has upped the anti by bettering Morrisons offers on Lanson Black Label and Rosé (by 99p) and cutting the price of its own label exclusive Pierre DarcysBrut NV to just £10 a bottle. Aldi has reduced the price of its Veuve Monsigny exclusive label to £9.99 into the New Year.
Further discounts are likely to emerge shortly with another 25% off the whole range due to start imminently. See latest offers
Frost on the night of April 16/17 have severely damaged part of the Champagne vineyard, destroying embryonic buds on the vines showing their first leaves as many, particularly Chardonnay, already are.
Driving around vineyards this morning (18 April) in Grande Vallée de la Marne including Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Avenay, I saw widespread damage, in the relatively forward Chardonnay in the low lying flat areas of vineyard close to the Marne River, but also in some Pinot Noir parcels.
Talking to other vineyard workers inspecting their own vines we heard about one producer who had lost around one hectare of vineyard in Le Mesnil sur Oger on the same night of 16 April but this information is as yet unconfirmed.
With temperatures dropping to as low as -4degC and -5degC on the night of the 16th, the damage was confined to vineyards on the valley floor and to those vines already in bud or where second and third leaves had developed.
Looking at the vineyards some 36 hours later in certain places all the buds were frozen, however it won’t be possible to assess the extent of the damage fully for a couple more days by which time the effected parts go black and buds drop off.
It is mainly Chardonnay which is affected and the problem here is exacerbated as Chardonnay grows quickly once the first buds break. In the low lying vineyards of Mareuil-sur-Ay where Pinot Meunier is still planted, as it used to be more widely in the past, there is no problem as the vines are not yet in bud. There was also a less severe frost on the night of Friday 13 April reported as destroying around 5% of Chardonnay is some parts of Villers-Marmery. (More news to follow soon)
Further comments 25 April 2012:
Olivier Bonville of Franck Bonville, a grower based in Avize says: “Frost affected about 30% of our vineyard. After the warm temperatures in March the vines were already showing two leaves and we were also hit by frost in the previous week on the night of 12/13 April when temperatures fell to -2 to -3degC.”
For Arnaud Margaine, a grower with vineyards in Villers-Marmery on the east facing slopes on the Montagne de Reims, the frosts of April 13 caused less than 5% damage but the night of 16/17th was colder and “we saw 15-20% of the vines damaged. But it is still too early to see the impact on the next harvest as some new buds may grow”.
Benoît Gouez winemaker at Moët & Chandon just back from the USA this week reports that “Globally between 7 and 8% of [the potential crop] our vineyards have been destroyed,” with the worst damage in the grands crus of Avize and Aÿ – 18 and 17% respectively but Cramant “12% destroyed and Bouzy 9%” also hit. The vines in the Côte des Bar to the south-east of Troyes where Pinot Noir is planted mainly were hardest struck and Gouez says Moët has lost nearly one fifth of its crop there.
Grower producer Cyril Jeaunaux based in the village of Talus-Saint Prix to the south-west of the Côte des Blancs says they suffered 40% frost damage in his vineyards with the worst affected areas on low lying land in the west part of the village. “Chardonnay isn’t more affected than Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier even though it was much more developed. We are often hit here because of early bud break and higher humidity than some areas which is caused by proximity to the Petit Morin river”, says Jeaunaux. “This year in Villenard, which is next to Talus, the damage is less serious with only 10-15% of the vines are affected.”
Regis Camus the winemaker at P&C Heidsieck says: “Pinot Meunier wasn’t touched by the recent frosts it was Pinot Noir that was worse affected with around 10% damage in the Marne Valley and as much as 20% in the Côte des Bar. Chardonnay near the valley floor it the Côte des Blancs was also damaged but it is still hard to say how badly as it has rained steadily since and there are no new green shoots appearing. It is likely there will be secondary buds growing on the damaged vines but these will either bear less or no fruit,” say Camus, “so in either case yields will be down. The frost has also stressed the vines making them more susceptible to disease like rot or mildew.”