Is the Champagne bubble about to pop?

Champagne producers have spent hundreds of years ensuring their product is associated intimately with notions of power and luxury. The Madrid Treaty of 1891 protected the brand from usurpers, and lawyers working for the producers have fought a number of legal actions in order to continue the protection across global marketplaces.

Early champagne posters, glorious objects as art in their own right, are great examples of how champagne as a brand inserted itself into popular culture as the wine to celebrate important occasions. As an emerging middle class grew during the 1800s, so sales of champagne followed. In 1800, producers were bottling 300,ooo bottles of bubbly a year. Fifty years on, 20 million were produced.

An original of this gorgeous Alphonse Mucha poster recently sold for US$63,250

Until recently, champagne has managed to keep a solid grip on the top end of the sparkling wine market. A large part of its dominance has to do with price. Nothing celebrates the ludicrously extravagant sport of Formula One quite like the spraying of expensive wine over the podium and your fellow drivers after all. However, things are beginning to change…

The recent global recession has caused a number of champagne houses to drastically cut the price of their product as they struggle to survive. In French supermarkets a bottle of Hubert de Claminger can be had for as little as €8.90 (US$12.75) and even industry heavyweight Moet & Chandon has priced their Imperial down to €21.70 (US$31).

This sudden crash in prices has alarmed the industry with the Chair of the Quality-Monitoring Committee, Carole Duval-Leroy, warning that selling off young vintages cheaply is a value-destructive, short sighted strategy.

It’s a big problem because once our prices fall we need years to repair the damage done to the brand. Those who are selling their champagne cheaply are producers with a cash-flow problem so they need to sell now. This hurts us a lot.

All this, of course, is good news to us consumers, at least in the short term. And perhaps the makers of champagne have had it just a little too good in the past. In the two decades to 2007 the value of champagne sold almost doubled whilst production grew by only 20%. Whether it has longer lasting effects that will eventually change our drinking culture forever is yet to be seen.

 

"Happy 2011! Champagne?" "Screw the champagne, go get the good stuff"

Thanks to Antiquesandthearts.com for the poster and auction news.

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