There’s no denying that Champagne is a true classic and when it comes to millennial trends, this is particularly interesting one to watch. There are the likes of prosecco (also jokingly known as the ‘P’ word in the French region), English sparkling wine, not to mention other categories popular with millennials, such as craft beer and gin, where does a refined tipple like this find its rightful place? This September, I went on a press trip with the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, a non-commercial and regulatory body established in 1941 that oversees the grower-producers and Maisons, to find out why this luxury has always been in demand and why it’s definitely not about to die out with our generation. Even in spite of Brexit woes.
All of us welcome sustainability. Until we have to pay more than usual for the sake of the environment and then we don’t so much love it than see it as a necessary evil. But for the last decade or so, Champagne has managed to embrace a circular economy while keeping its price consistent. Sustainability is intrinsic to this luxury product – supply is strictly regulated so that only the first press of the grapes, also known as cuvee, is used to make the bubbly drink that we all love so much. The juice that comes from later in the pressing process, called la taille, is used for other types of alcoholic beverages. Residue is recycled for cosmetics (hi, Caudalie!) and in the case of Veuve Cliquot, it even becomes part of the packaging. No over-production and selecting the absolute finest means that there’s a huge cut down on potential waste. That’s really left up to night club patrons with sparklers that spray Dom Perignon all over the floor.
Champagne invests heavily in the trend towards ecological viticulture. Currently no insecticides are used (quite a feat considering the plague of phylloxera that devastated vineyards in the 19th century) and using new technology to map and monitor soil moisture has prevented unnecessary water usage. This contributed to the region’s achievement of reversing environmental damage to where it was in the 90’s. Other steps towards a sustainable future include the revamped design of the Champagne bottle, whereby reducing its weight by 65g actually cuts down 15% of carbon footprint per unit. And makes your check in luggage a little lighter.
It may all sound rather grand and far removed from the concerns of our everyday lives – unless you’re a habitual Champagne drinker or a green warrior. However, it’s this focus on technology and progressive efforts to preserve the quality of the drink and integrity of its name that’s unparalleled and truly impressive. Most of all, I was surprised that the very nature of this effervescent delicacy is so in sync with the spirit of our generation, despite being thought of as obsessively traditional.
Millennials are famed for our spendthrift habits where ‘extra for avo’ is just a shrug and a nod away. But delve deeper than this stereotype and data shows that over half of us worldwide want a means of gauging the value of our purchases. Knowing that this luxury product is totally invested in the earth, is why the King of sparkling wines is far from its sunset days.
The appellation ‘Champagne’ is fiercely protected. Try to name an ice cream or makeup palette after it and they will come down on you like a mother bear protecting her cub. Trust me, I listened to the presentation during the trip. But there’s another kind of authenticity I want to highlight, and it’s the dedication to not just sustainability but the rise of truly organic wine. We visited a grower producer, one of the two bodies of production (the other being maisons like Moet and Chandon). It was a family-run vineyard by the name of La Courte-Godbillon where Jacqueline, who inherited the premier cru plots from her parents, takes great lengths to retain the purity of her land. Combined, they’ve been practicing natural farming methods for the last eight years. She shows us pictures of the chocolate-brown, shaggy, horned sheep that eat the grass and the little shed her husband Richard built to keep them warm while they rest. And the handsome grand horse that ploughs between the pinot noir vines. It’s all very idyllic but it’s not for show, it’s a philosophy.
Right now, vineyards like this make up around 1.5% of Champagne’s grape production but from the landscape of consumer demand and the spirit of knowledge-sharing in this region, it’s likely that this will be a fast-growing trend. However, due to strict rules about how the beverage is made (minimum three years for a vintage), combined with the time it takes for land to be fully accredited as ‘organic’, we’re a long long way from trying Jacqueline’s first bottle with that label.
For the millennial consumer, the allure of locality is getting stronger and in Champagne, grower producers are filling that desire. They differ from maisons because their main function is to tend to the vineyards and what they produce comes solely from their own grapes. They also tend to be family run and not in the business of commercialisation and export, which is part of the reason they are much lesser known. But because of this exclusivity, they have a wonderful sense of locale. Having toured the production facility of La Courte-Godbillon, the vats of grape juice are organised by where they were harvested, which means that not only can grower producers identify the best bits of land but they’re also able to create Champagne exclusively from these plots. With La Courte-Godbillion’s new blanc de noir, Jacqueline can show us exactly which areas the grapes have come from. The detail is exquisite – it can be pinpointed right down to the exact years of the reserve wines that have been used. It’s literally ancestry in the bottle.
Champagne is also the ideal destination for those who want to practice more mindful travel. Here, it’s not about consuming all that’s available but giving back through supporting the work of the locals. These bottles of Champagne are lovingly made through generations of savoir-faire and not to mention, are particularly hard to source outside of France, which to me makes them all the more luxurious. A trip to this industrious patch of French countryside speaks to a meaningful holiday experience, where walking among vineyards and visiting any of the 319 crus (villages) really immerses you in a local culture, albeit for a few days.
One of the most outstanding things that struck me about Champagne is its distinct lack of competitiveness. Every individual we spoke to, from the representatives of maisons, the press teams and local growers, believe that sticking together and learning from one another was the best way to move forward. You can see the spirit of collaboration in the way that vineyards are not neatly assigned to each grower producer, but scattered about and vary in size. Then there’s the sense of honour. It’s common for huge Champagne houses to have decade-long contracts with grower producers for their grapes. Although they try to own as much grand cru and premier cru land as they can, they’ll often top up their supply from other vineyards. Respect and community is above all here.
Champagne is known as a celebratory drink, I mean the hashtag that comes with it is actually #celebratelife. This is an integral part of French history where Reims, the ‘capital’ of Champagne, became the official coronation site for kings. Initially, the creation of sparkling wine came as blessing in disguise – flat wines were used for religious purposes and the story goes that Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon (not the brand) discovered it by accident when the cold temperatures changed the fermentation process, and transformed the drink into a fizzy concoction. He described the experience as ‘drinking stars’. Subsequently, it was served at royal occasions and eventually regulated in 1729 by Louis XV for tax purposes. The first house was Ruinart, now known for its elegant blanc de blanc Champagne.
While millennials are often associated with modernity, we’re arguably also the greatest champions of nostalgia. Binge watching Friends on Netflix, the brief revival of Pokemon and Hollywood remakes of our favourite childhood Disney movies. With heritage comes a sense of belonging and the idea of better, more wholesome times. Most of all, it grounds a product in authenticity and more tangible valuable, making Champagne the ultimate luxury for millennials. Some of us just don’t know it yet.