Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Night They Devalued Champagne

Alice Fiering has a long, probing article in the Wall Street Journal Magazine about just how bad things have gotten in the most luxurious of wine regions, Champagne. Seems the recession has proved many of bubbly's fans to be fair weather friends at best. $10 bottles of Prosecco are the popular dates at liquor stores, while the Cristal and Krug have become unlikely wallflowers waiting, somewhat desperately, to be asked to dance.

According to the article, sales are off 50 percent for the basic stuff, and down 85 percent for the fancy. The Champenois aren't used to courting their customers, but they've been forced to cut prices and deploy some inventive marketing to keep the buyer interested during times when a bottle of the best stuff might be best used to buy a week's worth of groceries:

What Moët Hennessy is really looking to do is to get into the conscious dreams of those living in regions that they’d never given much thought to. Mark Bodi, chairman of New Hampshire’s liquor commission, was delighted when Moët suggested it sponsor stores within state wine stores, based on the dutyfree-shop concept. To kick off the partnership, an increased order of 2,000 cases of the company’s champagnes were shipped north to sit on fancy backlit shelving. In politics, the nation follows New Hampshire— could this be a bellwether for champagne? Their sales are up in the pilot store in Hampton, N.H., by 30 percent.

The bright side to all of this is that consumers are in for a bargain or two, particularly around the holidays, should the recession persist (which it surely will). Additionally, perhaps we are through, for a time, with the decadent silliness that became rampant during the boom years. Examples pointing out by Fiering:

Perrier-Jouët’s By and For line released a $70,000-a-case champagne they referred to as bespoke, and Veuve Clicquot teamed up with Porsche Design to make Vertical Limit, a $70,000 cellar that looked like a high-tech iron maiden and held 12 magnums of vintage champagne, going back to 1955.

Daniel Lorson, communications director of the trade organization Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), told Fiering, “The bling-bling side, the artifi cial luxury side of champagne, is dead. It’s now about authenticity.”

How can that be bad?

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