The secrets of Champagne

Luxury is not just fashion. This is the reason why students of IFA Luxury Brand Management program are given the opportunity to discover a wide range of sectors. Champagne is one the most famous luxury product, so on November 6th, the students of this MBA program were treated to a tour of the Champagne region and its two cities, Reims and Epernay. A perfect embodiment of luxury, the Champagne wine can only come from Champagne.

Our Champagne wine trail started with a visit of the Reims Cathedral, the other major attraction of the region for the role it played in French history: this is where kings of France were crowned and made legitimate over eight centuries. Dating back to the XIIIe century - construction work began in 1211 and finished a century later- the Cathedral is one of the best examples of French medieval Gothic style. A deeply loved emblem of a region and of what the French call a “terroir”, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and participates to the luxury mood of the entire Champagne area.

Like the cathedral, the vineyards and Champagne Houses and Cellars of the Reims region are famous world-wide. As proof of its one-of-a-kind production system and its unique soils, the region is currently bidding to be listed as a cultural landscape on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List next year.

Our first visit of a Cellar was that of the Pommery House. Created in 1856, it is representative of the region’s largest brands and is thought to be the third most important group in France today. Today the Pommery House produces over 18 million bottles a year and 60% of its production is exported outside France.

To form the 30 kms-long “crayères” used to store the precious wines, the Pommerys transformed existing old quarries dating back to Gallo-Roman times into cellars and occasionally, art venues. The estate is indeed famous for associating art works with champagne production. Nathalie Vranken, the new owner of the company, has been reviving this tradition since 2003 by regularly curating art exhibitions inside the cellars, the ART EXPERIENCES.

Our second visit took us to the Epernay-based Gonet Sulvcova House. This third-generation family-run business was founded at the beginning of the 20th century and is characteristic of a small-scale Champagne house.

With only 3 kms of cellars and a yearly output of 8000 bottles, the small wine maker took us through the routine production process.

Akin to patient craftsmanship, this regional ‘savoir-faire’ appears well kept in the hands of small houses such as Gonet Sulcova. Yet, the high investments and important sunk costs that this business requires, the high risks that crop producers face and the delayed returns that can threaten financial stability provided our students with an excellent case study of the challenges that luxury brands have to meet.