Monday, December 21, 2009
WHAT THE HECK IS GROWER CHAMPAGNE AND HOW DO I SELL IT?
There has been a lot of talk about grower Champagne and how it is far superior to the major Champagne houses that dominate the marketplace here in the states (i.e., Moet-Chandon, Veuve-Clicquot, G.H. Mumm, et.al). Though like most wine geeks out there, I have been enthralled by these amazing, small family producers who grow all their own fruit and make their own wine, completely free of the large negociants,
Wines from producers such as Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Vilmart, Paul Bara and Jacquart are critical darlings, garnering incredible reviews from Tanzer, Spectator and others. Yet the big problem is the advert machines that churn out full-page spreads for the major houses and keep the public’s eye transfixed on brands like Perrier-Jouet Fleur du Champagne, Moet-Chandon’s Dom Perignon and White Star, and Piper-Heidsieck’s Sublime. I love having the grower Champagnes on our shelves, but despite the rave reviews, they are complete unknowns to our customers, and therefore, no matter the knowledge my staff imparts to them, they (the bottles) remain permanent dust collectors.
I recently pulled up a paper written by Kevin Pike and Terry Thiese (the biggest champion of grower Champagne in the U.S.), and they offered at least a manifest of sorts on how retailers and restaurateurs can better promote the growers over the major houses. Yet despite the “ra-ra-sis-boom-bah” cheerleading routine that it offers up, there still isn’t a clear cut methodology on successfully selling these brands.
I have tried tastings with these wines before, but the problem presented there is that these wines are typically directly imported (not regularly stocked by our wholesalers), and therefore, any tasting allocations are not in anyone’s budget. Couple this with the fact that, especially this time of the year, the big houses are wheeling and dealing, and I can get some pretty outlandish prices on things like Dom Perignon and PJ Fleur. The same thing can’t be said about the grower Champagnes, which for the most part, remain the same high prices as last year, if not having taken price increases.
I am unsure of where to go with this juggernaut. I want to promote these brands. I want the customer to experience these brands. But I don’t need these brands just sitting on the shelf. After all, aren’t we in the business of selling wine? My boss certainly doesn’t want me “collecting” wine on his dime. What is a poor wine geek to do? Suggestions?