I love champagne. Its effervescence excites me, its crispness makes me smile and its very aura is appealing. I drink it all, from the little grower champagnes to the Grand Dames. No other drink has the same complex creation, the unique history or the emotional impact.
Today on Champagne Day, I’m sharing a piece I wrote a few years ago about the way champagne is marketed to maintain its unique pop culture status.
Clear morning sunlight is just breaking over the distant hills, but I’ve been sipping champagne for an hour, floating in a hot air balloon at 2,500 feet above the Sonoran desert near Phoenix. A white scarf that recalls the magnificent men in their flying machines is draped around my neck. The silence is broken by the roar of the propane burners that keep the elegant white balloon with its silvery vine logo afloat.
The occasion? Krug Champagne is flossing its unique brand of bespoke luxury in this $500,000 balloon outfitted with hand-tooled white leather, a mid-fight repast created by a French culinary designer and a pilot with a British accent.
Welcome to the new world of luxury champagne marketing. It’s not enough to tout the tastiness of your bubbly in a competitive industry set at just under $6 billion in 2010 according to trade group Comite Interprofesionnel du Vin de Champagne. Whether with cleverly designed bottles and baubles, super-exclusive cuvees or champagne lifestyle experiences, venerable maisons are busy dreaming up ever-more opulent ways to one-up each other and attract attention.
Veuve Clicquot hired ber-designer Karim Rashid to create a curvy pink tÃªte-a-tÃªte style loveseat with an ice bucket built into the center that sold for $10,000. His latest effort is Globalight, a $4,500 limited edition champagne cooler and carrier that keeps your rosÃ© at the ideal temperature while bathing it in soft pink light.
Piper-Heidsieck — which first linked fashion and fizz with a bottle dressed in a Jean Paul Gaultier red vinyl corset — has dressed RosÃ© Sauvage in a pink and black upside-down bottle by Viktor & Rolf. Last year they released a Christian Louboutin-designed crystal slipper (which also might be idea for Cristal-sipping). This yearâ€™s conceit was a bondage bottle dressed in black fishnets and a mask by Gaultier that cost $285 (at Park Avenue Liquor Shop) if you could even get your hands on one.
Perrier JouÃ«t By and For â€“ a true bespoke bubbly — burst on the scene this spring as the most expensive champagne to date. Celebs Sophie Marceau and Marianne Faithfull have jumped at the chance to be one of the lucky 100 to buy a case for about $98,000. The price includes a trip to Paris for four, â€œpersonalityâ€ champagne blending with the chef de caves, and lunch at the Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay. If thatâ€™s not enough, then consider dropping another $165,000 for the Van Cleef & Arpels anemone flower brooch set with 450 diamonds and 259 yellow sapphires that commemorates the launch.
But by far the most egregious example of the power of marketing is Armand de Brignac champagne, aka Ace of Spades that was introduced by rapper Jay Z. A few years ago, the Cattier family had little success selling champagne for about $64 a bottle in the U.S. Their fortunes changed after Cattier Champagne — poured into a shiny gold bottle — appeared in the Jay-Z video “Show Me What You Got.” Now it sells for $300 a pop.
Though the flying Krug room takes champagne marketing to new heights, at least there’s a historical precedent. In the late 1700s when the French balloon aviation pioneers took a flight, they always carried a bottle of champagne as a peace offering since the balloon were prone to landing unexpectedly in some poor farmer’s field.
“That’s the same wine in the bottle and the taste has not changed,” said Remi Fritsch-Frontages, Krug’s brand director. “What you create around it that makes people see it with new eyes.”
So what’s next? The Krug Formula One race car? The Krug yacht? Or maybe they’ll follow the lead of Hermès and launch the Krug Kopter.