Monday, March 16, 2009

A Letter to Champagne Producers

Dear Champagne Producers,

First of all, please allow me to tell you that I am a big fan in general. I love your products and enjoy sharing them with my family and friends. But today I'm writing to ask you that you as a rule, include basic information on your wine labels. Information that will aid consumers like me in making purchasing decisions. Please remember that your wines typically cost upwards of $40 here in the United States, and for most of us, that is a significant sum. Not to say that your wines aren't worth the money, because they usually are. But when I pay that kind of money for a bottle of wine, there are certain basic things that I like to know.

One of the most important pieces of information that is quite often not included on your bottles is the vintage in which the majority of the grapes were harvested. I understand that you typically blend with reserve wines, but I don't think that is a good excuse for omitting this important piece of information. Your basic non-vintage wines are different from year to year (I'm writing to you, grower/producers, not to LVMH), so indicate on the bottle somewhere the vintage the wine is based on. That way I can make an informed decision, which I think I'm entitled to when I'm paying Champagne prices. If I prefer, for example, your NV Brut that is based on 2004, blended with reserve wines from 2003 and 2002, but your NV Brut that is based on 2005 with reserves from 2004 and 2003 is also on the market (quite common here in New York), I want get the wine that I prefer when I put down my $47. And I can't be sure which wine I'm buying unless you tell me by indicating this somewhere on the bottle.

Furthermore, many of you release several versions of the same NV wine, differing only in disgorgement date. This is another great opportunity lost. You usually do not tell us on your labels when the wine was disgorged, so I cannot be sure that I am buying the particular wine that I may prefer.

Some people say that this dearth of information is the fault of the importers and their distributing partners. But if you think about it, importers and distributors have every incentive NOT to include this information. If they could get away with keeping vintage dates off Bordeaux or Burgundy, they'd do that too. The consumer wouldn't know whether or not he or she is buying the 2004 or the 2005, and there would be no way to differentiate between wine that sells quickly and wine that sits around for a while. What distributor wouldn't want that as part of their business model? Consumers would have to be content buying a bottle simply called Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet, for example. That's it. 2004, 2005, who knows? Is the price reflective of the relative quality of the vintage? Again, who knows?

Since importers and distributors have the incentive not to provide consumers with this information, I think it is incumbent upon you as a group to ensure that the base year and the disgorgement date are included on every bottle of your NV wines. You are artisans whose products can be appreciated at the most finely detailed of levels. Why deprive consumers of the ability to fully appreciate your work? The practice of omitting this information actually denigrates your wines, advancing the notion that they are the same year after year, and there is nothing to think about when buying them. This is clearly untrue, so why allow this to continue?

Some of you already include base year and disgorgement date on your labels, either clearly stated or in coded form. I'm hoping that the rest of you will join in this practice as soon as possible. And by the way, I think you should also indicate the grape blend, the percentage of reserve wines in the blend, and the level of dosage, but I'll take that up with you in a subsequent letter. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you again for your wonderful wines.




Weston said...

good hopfully they do this, I bought a Magnum of Champagne [Alain Vesselle Cuvee St. Eloi Grand Cru] and went to look to see about the date of it I mean its a magnum not everyone buys magnums first. Anyways Im drinking this in a couple days Ill keep you posted

ned said...

Traditional mainstream marketing of Champagne is based on the concept that "it's the Brand and notions of celebration we're selling." Such details as you are proposing are I'm sure considered a distraction, and even confusing to the less knowledgeable.
When it can be demonstrated that this would sell more wine, then the effort will be made. To the extent that it remains unclear, only the dedicated can be counted upon to make the effort. If they show that it can attract sales I'm sure the rest would follow.

Anonymous said...

Well said. For the price we pay for decent NV, we should have more information upfront.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, but ultimately, consumers are going to have to vote with their wallets to motivate producers (buy wines that disclose what you want to see on the label, and don't buy those that don't). It's worth adding that we should patronize those using Diam corks, or anything else that isn't routinely ten percent TCA-tainted, give or take a few percent.

Note: there are a few -- very few indeed, but the number is nonzero -- wine merchants who have a close enough relationship to producers that they can tell you what they're selling, whether or not it appears on the label.