Australians drinking more champagne while the French drink less

Jeni Port
Champagne ... Australians love the French stuff.
Champagne ... Australians love the French stuff. 

The champagne bubble simply refuses to burst. In 2012, Australians were the seventh biggest drinkers of the beverage in the world. Last year, we inched into sixth spot.

Latest figures from the Comite Champagne (CIVC) for the 2013 sales year reveal imports of 6.02 million bottles into Australia, an increase of 11.4 per cent. And while Australia booms, champagne sales within France last year fell 2.3 per cent. Although they still consume 167 million bottles.

What is driving the inexorable bubbly climb locally? "My gut feel is that we are seeing cheaper prices," says Melbourne retailer, Randall Pollard of Randall's. “The Australian dollar has helped. You can now buy champagne at $40 to $50 a bottle where once it was $60 or $70. I saw Cattier advertised this week for $33. Now that's cheap.”

Cheap prices have partly been fuelled by the back door method of importation commonly referred to as parallel importing. A dozen bottles of champagne or more might be sold into London but then the London restaurateur or retailer sells it to another retailer in another country for a reduced price.

The producers don't like it as some champagnes can travel the world for months before arriving at their final destination in a less than desirable condition. However, the cheap prices afforded by parallel importing make it a mouthwatering attraction to get customers into a wine shop, wine bar or restaurant.

Meanwhile the grower champagne (growers-turned-winemakers) segment has risen in volume from 1.5 per cent of the Australian market in 2007 to 3.9 per cent or around 180,000 bottles in 2012. At Monopole restaurant in Sydney's Potts Point 15-year veteran sommelier Nick Hildebrandt is a promoter of grower champagnes over the big, well-known Champagne houses or marques. Grower houses have blossomed in the last five years, offering drinkers an exciting alternative.

“I don't really have too much to do with the big brands that I see discounted in the supermarkets,” Hildebrandt says.

The Monopole wine list boasts a Growers' Collection devoted to names like Diebolt-Vallois, David LeClapart, Cedric Bouchard and Jacques Selosse.

“The days of people coming in and ordering Veuve Clicquot just don't happen anymore,” he says. “Sommeliers have led the way in promoting grower champagnes and consumers have reacted positively.”

Hildebrandt orders “a couple of dozen” champagne each week and says he probably sells more by the glass than bottle, asking around $24 for a 120ml glass of champagne.

The Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC or Comite Champagne for short) represents the interests of independent Champagne producers and houses. Its charter is to promote and market the vines and wines of Champagne worldwide.