Latest news and trends in Champagne. Interview with Benoit Ferré, export director of Maison Bruno Paillard
|Benoit Ferré at Pärnu Wineclub, Café Grand, Pärnu. Photo: Viktoria Reiman.|
Benoit, lets start from scratch. Before revealing the latest news in Champagne lets talk a bit about the "big picture".
Historically the Maisons de Champagne export over 83% of the bottles, but own only 10% of the vineyards. In past few years the growth for Champagne has been driven by sales in export markets which naturally creates pressure on all the Maisons to secure their supply of grapes and drives the grape prices up. It increases the cost of production for all Maisons, especially for the smaller ones as big Champagne groups use that tense situation in the grape prices as leverage to put pressure on smaller Maisons. At Bruno Paillard we face this problem as well and in an impactful manner since the grapes we buy come mostly from prime vineyards often classified as Premier and Grand Crus, where the increase is the strongest.
But, Bruno Paillard had understood a long time ago that securing the grape supply was essential for the future of his house and so he decided to invest deeply and purchase his own vineyards early, the first ones in Cote des Blancs in 1994. Today we own 34 hectares of vineyards in 16 villages (Crus) divided in 110 single plots. It represents over 70% of the grapes we use, something absolutely unique for a Maison. This is a guarantee of independence and freedom from the grape market but also a guarantee of quality since we work our vineyards with our own techniques.
The other consequence of this price increase for grapes is that more and more growers who were making their own Champagne decide to stop and focus only on producing grapes these days. Their number keeps decreasing year after year (-120 last year). So, we cant really talk about Grower Champagne as a trend any more.
To show the paradox in the Grower Champagne trend we can see following statistics: in 2009 Grower Champagnes accounted for 25,5% of Champagnes sales vs. 18,2% in 2018... Maisons sales moved from 66% to 72,2% in the same past 10 years. The rest is Cooperative sales (mostly private labels for merchants and supermarkets, besides Nicolas Feuillate, of course).
Another thing that we see in the vineyards is that more and more producers commit to a sustainable approach, something that is promoted by the CIVC (Comité Champagne Interprofessional, Interprofessional Champagne wines Committee, in English). Big improvements have been made in recent years.
As far as we are concerned, yet again Bruno Paillard had realized since the beginning that healthy grapes produced in vineyards which are worked with respect towards the ecosystem give better wines. This is why we are deeply involved in this approach and we use organic and biodynamic methods in our vineyards since the beginning.
Last but not least, all this work and care in the vineyards is essential to adapt as best as possible to the new conditions imposed to us by global warming in order to maintain the quality and unique character of Champagne.
A lot of Zero Dosage Champagnes can be dominated by the natural high acidity that we have in Champagne. This is what Bruno Paillard had noticed when he made his first attempt in the 80's. He simply took the classical Brut assemblage (blend) and gave it a bit more time on the lees before disgorgement and corking without adding any sugar, something that many producers still do. Such a wine was very much dominated by acidity, lacked finesse and length and could not express itself properly. It lacked balance. Which is why it took a lot of experience, attempts and a unique "recipe" to create the D:Z, selecting a certain type of grapes from specific vineyards (mostly Meunier grapes from chalky vineyards), fermenting and ageing them in small oak barrels for the most and adding a high proportion of special reserve wines, some of which having already had some time on the lees. All this for a perfectly balanced Zero Dosage Champagne which some people don't believe to be a Zero Dosage.
But what do you think of the trend after all? Shall we see Brut Nature's and Zero Dosage's conquering the market at full?
In fact, in a trend that promotes extra low dosage we at Bruno Paillard find ourselves now in a position of defending the tradition of dosage, appropriately and carefully used to always reach for the finest balance in a Champagne. Not speaking of the interest of sugar for wines made with the potential to last in time, which is also something we are known for. Indeed, sugar in wine creates micro-maderisation (a process that involves the heating and oxidation of a wine) over time which is important for the slow ageing in wine. So, this is why we are not extremists whatsoever. The search for outstanding quality is our sole focus and dictates every small decision we make.
|Passionate about Champagne. Photo: Viktoria Reiman.|
Lets put our eyes onto sales market now. What are the trends there?
Again, Champagne is experiencing a troubled time at the moment with tension in some of its main markets. In France, the constant decrease of wine consumption is affecting Champagne sales as well. This is something clear for the low price Champagne segment which are sold in supermarkets. Abroad, the Brexit in Great Britain and the tariffs in the USA have already created troubles with slower sales and inventory management. This is combined with stronger competition from quality sparkling wines made in other French regions or other countries. For these reasons, the sales of Champagne have declined in the past few years in volume, but they have increased in value.
This increase in value is not only driven by the Maisons but also by the trend of Grower Champagnes. Vignerons contrary to Maisons or Négociants can only make Champagne with grapes coming from their own vineyards. This limitation has also enabled the rise of growers who have specialized in their own terroir and created Champagne wines reflecting the character of their micro-climate and soil. There is a sense of authenticity and humanity (v. the big Champagne brands) which appeals to customers. We have seen the emergence of star growers putting their very stamp on every of their wines. Now we see also Champagne from single vineyards and single vintages, like wines form other wine regions. This is a very positive trend showing the diversity and richness of Champagne.
But with the limitation of the Grower status, these wines tend to become quite elitist, the availability is limited to a small number of people and the prices are high. This is also why there is an ambiguity because the successful growers are forced to buy grapes from outside if they want to grow and take the Négociant status (like Maisons). Some converting their status fully, some creating spin-off negotiant companies to capitalize on their grower reputation and keep the grower status for their high-end cuvées. This is another reason why the number of Growers is diminishing as many of them become Neo-Négociants. Something logical in a way when you look at the history of Champagne where the Maisons have built the reputation and worldwide distribution of Champagne and still represent over 80% of the bottles exported around the world.
Benoit, besides good old markets and connoisseurs do you see some new markets and possibilities out there these days?
What we have experienced at Maison Bruno Paillard is that since the very beginning we have naturally opened ourselves to export markets and we now export to 44 countries in the world. With our positioning as a premium gastronomy Champagne we work mostly with fine dining restaurants, hotels and specialized wine shops. And so we work well where the culinary culture is well developed.As such, we always look at places where this culture is developing.
Recently, countries of Eastern Europe and Russia are experiencing this growing culture for fine dining. The best example is the Bocuse d'Or Europe competition which will be held in Tallin in May 2020! At Bruno Paillard we take the time to come to these markets and work with chefs and sommeliers through carefully selected partners who share our passion and philosophy. In order to grow together with the culinary and wine culture in these countries. This is what we are focused on now and in future.
Thank you, Benoit for giving us some really good insight into Champagne world these days. Knowing that you already plan to visit Estonia once again in summer for Mullfest (Bubble Festival hold in Pärnu, the Summer Capital of Estonia) we hope there will be a nice opportunity to experience the latest creations of Maison Bruno Paillard as well as hear the very latest news in Champagne once again.
Thank you and see you soon!
Maison Bruno Paillard is represented by ChampChamber OÜ in co-operation with Mulligalerii (The Bubble Gallery) in Estonia. You can always contact Kristel Voltenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org, and see more information on www.champchamber.com.