A Greener Champagne Bottle

Deep below a lush landscape of ripening Champagne grapes, Thierry Gasco, the master vintner for Pommery, ran his finger over the shoulders of a dark green bottle that looked just like the thousands of others reposing in his chilly subterranean cellars.

But to the practiced hand and eye, there is a subtle, if potentially significant, difference.
“This is how we’re remaking the future of Champagne,” he said, pointing to the area just below the neck. “We’re slimming the shoulders to make the bottle lighter, so our carbon footprint will be reduced to help keep Champagne here for future generations.”

The Champagne industry has embarked on a drive to cut the 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide it emits every year transporting billions of tiny bubbles around the world. Producing and shipping accounts for nearly a third of Champagne’s carbon emissions, with the hefty bottle the biggest offender.

Yet while many other industries might plaster their marketing with eco-friendly claims, changes to Champagne, as with so much else in France, are being made discreetly. Producers in this secretive business are tight-lipped about the costs and occasionally enigmatic about how much their carbon emissions will really be cut.

“Champagne is sometimes more humble than it should be,” said Philippe Wibrotte of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the region’s trade organization. “Much is done for the promotion of the environment, but it’s kept quiet because we want to make sure each step is perfect.”

The industry speaks in hushed tones, too, in deference to the luxurious image and ritualistic traditions of Champagne, as symbolized for centuries by the bottle. It was Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, who first thickened the glass in the mid-1600s to contain what was often referred to as “the devil’s wine” because its vessels exploded so often. Over time, the bottle was gradually recalibrated until 900 grams, or about two pounds, became the standard weight in the early 1970s.

The current retooling, which uses 65 fewer grams (2.3 ounces) of glass, is in response to a 2003 study of Champagne’s carbon footprint, which the industry wants to cut 25 percent by 2020, and 75 percent by 2050.

The move comes as efforts to reduce carbon output and improve vineyard ecology are accelerating worldwide, as wine houses reduce packaging, pesticides, water use and transportation. In California, for example, winegrowers are promoting what their trade group, the Wine Institute, says are nearly 230 “green practices,” including methods to cut carbon emissions.

Champagne accounts for only 10 percent of the three billion bottles of sparkling wine produced globally each year. But the bottle stands out for its heft. Italian prosecco, for instance, uses a 750-gram bottle. But it and its various fizzy cousins have only about half the pressure of Champagne — which generates three times the air pressure of a typical car tire.

Although some of Pommery’s restyled bottles are already on the market, the C.I.V.C. expects all Champagne houses to start using the new 835-gram vessel next April for bottling this month’s grape harvest; the new wave of bottles will hit stores after three years of fermentation. The effort, the group says, will trim carbon emissions by 8,000 metric tons annually — the equivalent of taking 4,000 small cars off the road.

“For Champagne producers to reduce the weight of their packaging is definitely a step in the right direction,” said Tyler Colman, an author of environmental studies on the wine industry, “because there’s less mass to transport around the world.”

Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which in addition to Pommery owns Heidsieck & Company Monopole and other labels, got a head start by adopting the lighter bottle in 2003. Consumers around the world may have already uncorked some specimens without noticing the new bottle. Moët & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot and a few others quietly switched this year, with those bottles still under fermentation.

The rest of the Champagne producers are deciding whether to embrace the C.I.V.C.’s mandate, which is voluntary but carries special force in this clannish community.

Designing a new bottle was no small feat. The container still had to withstand Champagne’s extreme pressure. It would also need to survive the four-year obstacle course from the factory floor to the cellars to the dining table, and fit in existing machinery at all Champagne houses. And it had to be molded so that consumers would barely detect the difference in the bottle’s classic shape.

“The bottle is part of Champagne’s image, and we don’t want to affect it,” said Daniel Lorson, a spokesman for the trade group.

Mr. Gasco said Vranken Pommery, one of the largest houses, has spent 500,000 to one million euros ($635,000 to about $1.3 million) each year since 1994 on environmental initiatives, including research and testing of the lighter bottle.

But the bottle, he said, is not about money, which has become tighter since the financial crisis. Industrywide sales for Champagne last year were 3.7 billion euros ($4.7 billion), down from nearly 5 billion euros in 2007.

“Reducing their carbon footprint and energy use is also a great way to make their operations more financially viable, especially with the economy the way it is,” said Euan Murray, an official at the Carbon Trust, a nonprofit group that advises businesses and government on global warming issues.

Sipping a glass of Pommery during an interview, Mr. Gasco eventually disclosed that the new bottles cost around 32 euro cents (41 United States cents) each, not much cheaper than the classic. But Mr. Gasco, who sits on the C.I.V.C.’s bottling panel, said “if everyone starts to use it, the price will come down.” Any savings, however, would be too slight to pass on to consumers, he said.

Most of the new Champagne bottles are made at the St. Gobain plant near here, where molten red glass is dropped from a 20-foot-high chute into molds at a rate of 160 a minute. The glass is cooled from more than 1,000 degrees Celsius for over an hour, scanned for imperfections and stacked on pallets for shipping.

A worker on Pommery’s assembly line, who declined to be named, said he noticed that a few more of the new bottles were exploding, and that they made a higher-pitched sound when they clinked together. Mr. Gasco denied there were more explosions, and said any damage more likely came from using heat to inject the cork.

Bruno Delhorbe, the director at the St. Gobain factory, said that using less glass lowered the carbon emissions necessary to make each bottle by 7 percent, and allowed about 2,400 more to be placed inside delivery trucks, reducing the number of trucks on the road.

Slimming the shoulders while thinning the glass, he noted, also allowed his clients to avoid giving their customers more Champagne for the same price.

Of course, there are even lighter alternatives: Many of the world’s producers of still wines are employing plastic bottles and box containers to reduce their carbon footprint.

But it may be a long time before Champagne goes that route. Most houses take pains to cultivate an image of luxury through packaging and pricing — and intimations that other sparkling wines are inferior because they simply are not Champagne.

Still, many producers insist that while tradition has its place, the environmentally motivated changes are about the future. Patrick LeBrun, an independent producer, said he started going green “for personal reasons.” He has not used herbicides for five years, and this year, he is putting all of his product into the lighter bottle.

“There’s about a 2-cent price difference but that’s not what decided me,” he said. Trying to improve the environment “is my contribution to the next generation.”

New York Times

DOUBLE, DOUBLE TOIL AND BUBBLE

If the world is headed for a double-dip recession, champagne drinkers are either oblivious to the threat or partying like there is no tomorrow until all comes crashing down.

Trade body Comite interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) has reported that global champagne sales volumes jumped nearly 40 per cent in the first half of this year. The CIVC said this growth was on top of robust sales of the French specialty in the first quarter.

The industry group said 47.1 million bottles of champagne had been exported in the six-months, with shipments to European Union and non-EU countries increasing by 27.3 per cent and 60.6 per cent respectively.

A breakdown of the figures showing shipments to individual countries was not yet available, but experts said the stronger US dollar and British pound in relation to the euro had helped drive consumption of bubbly in those two key markets.

A CIVC spokesman said while it was premature to talk of a lasting recovery being under way, the champagne industry was clearly in much better shape than it was a year ago with destocking now at an end and replenishment of stocks begun.

Champagne sales around the world sank during the global financial crisis as consumers chose less conspicuous and pricey alcoholic drinks in which to drown their sorrows.

Moet Hennessy Australia, part of the French luxury goods group LVMH, said recently it was optimistic about local champagne sales during the spring racing carnival and the crucial Christmas trading period.

Its popular Moet & Chandon brand, the biggest-selling champagne brand in Australia, has been driving 10 per cent-plus sales growth in the business for the year to date.

Australians are among the top 10 drinkers of champagne in the world, with just under 3 million bottles emptied last year.

Brisbane Times

BEST WAY TO POUR CHAMPAGNE? “Down the Side”

There has been a long-standing disagreement over the best way to pour a glass of champagne…the evidence is now in as of August 11, 2010! Scientists in France have recently reported that pouring champagne in an angled, down-the-side way is best for preserving its taste and bubbles. Along with this report, came the first scientific evidence confirming the importance of chilling champagne before serving to enhance its taste.

Gérard Liger-Belair and his colleagues have noted in this report that tiny bubbles are the essence of fine champagnes and sparkling wines. Past studies indicate that the bubbles (which are formed during the release of large amounts of dissolved carbon dioxide gas) help transfer the taste, aroma, and mouth-feel of champagne. Scientists long have suspected that the act of pouring a glass of bubbly could have a big impact on gas levels in champagne and its quality. Until now, however, no scientific study had been done. The scientists studied carbon dioxide loss in champagne using two different pouring methods. One involved pouring champagne straight down the middle of a glass and the other involved pouring champagne down the side of an angled glass. They found that pouring champagne down the side preserved up to twice as much of the carbon dioxide in champagne than pouring down the middle. They believe that the angled method was gentler.

They also confirmed in their report that cooler champagne temperatures (ideally, 39 degrees Fahrenheit) help reduce carbon dioxide loss.

Though the findings may seem obvious, this is the first time they’ve been shown chemically. As for how to best drink champagne, the answer is still the same—bottoms up!

References:

Liger-Belair et al. On the Losses of Dissolved CO2 during Champagne Serving. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2010; 58 (15): 8768 DOI: 10.1021/jf101239w

American Chemical Society (2010, August 11). Best way to pour champagne? ‘Down the side’ wins first scientific test. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2010/08/100811125945.htm

CHAMPAGNE PROCEEDS WITH CAUTION :: Shipments are up, but the industry sets limits on grape yields for the 2010 harvest

People looking for signs of economic recovery watch unemployment figures or housings sales or retail figures. In the wine industry, many look to Champagne sales. Demand is increasing for Champagne in the United States. Imports from the region nearly doubled in the first two months of 2010, compared with January and February 2009. The industry is still a long way from the boom times of just a few years ago, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Nonetheless, Champagne producers are proceeding with caution when it comes to the bubbly supply. The Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the industry’s regulatory body, set a maximum yield of 10,500 kilograms per hectare (4.7 tons per acre) for this year’s harvest. It’s a compromise between the region’s grapegrowers, some of whom bottle and sell Champagne themselves, and the merchant houses that purchase grapes for the bulk of their production. For growers, more grapes mean more money, while for producers, more grapes mean more wine to sell in an uncertain market when inventories in their cellars are already high.

“The growers wanted more, not only those who sell grapes but also those who produce and sell their own Champagne because they have done well so far and they do not have much reserves,” said Daniel Lorson, the CIVC’s director of communications. “On the contrary, the houses and the [cooperatives] wanted a lower level—below 10,000 kilograms per hectare—so the level that has been set is a compromise.” Last year the yields were limited to 9,700 kg/ha (4.33 tons/acre).

Despite the limit, the estimated crop level for the 2010 harvest is 14,000 kg/ha (6.2 tons/acre). That guarantees a complex scenario for the region come harvest time. Each producer is allowed to harvest grapes in excess of maximum yields and set aside the wine for use in future years, but the amount of reserves is currently limited to 8,000 kg/ha. Most big producers already have the maximum allowed stock of reserve wines or are close to the maximum, thanks to slower sales in the past three years.

So what happens to the surplus grapes? “The 10,500 kg/ha limit is based on the needs of the region as a whole,” said Sam Heitner, spokesperson for the Champagne Bureau, the representative of the CIVC in the United States. “The CIVC updates this limit every year based on the supply situation. Some years it has been higher and other years it has been lower.”

“As a decision on the amount allowed to go into the reserves will take place at a later date, we cannot provide the total harvest per hectare today. However, it is common practice in years with low harvest limits for the Champenoise to pick the best grapes out of each parcel to go toward the limit and the reserve wines and then leave the remaining grapes in the field to nurture the vines.”

The decision to limit the harvests both last year and now this year has stabilized grape prices. Stéphane Coquillette, a small grower in Chouilly, said he was pleased with this year’s increase over 2009 yields but, more important, the stability in the price of grapes.

Louis Roederer’s chef de cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, echoed Coquillette’s sentiment. “At Roederer, we think 10,500 or 11,000 kg/ha was the right decision, with a stable price for grapes, as our crop estimation in our vineyard is 11,500 kg/ha,” he said. “If everything goes well [with the weather], every grower should reach the maximum 8,000 kg/ha reserve qualitative individuelle at the end of harvest 2010.”

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, owner of Champagne Taittinger, said there were still a few details to work out regarding the CIVC’s decisions, but he did not elaborate. Taittinger was, however, pleased with the increase in demand for bubbly. “As far as Taittinger is concerned, shipments for the first six months of the year are very good all over the world,” he said. “I think that the quality of the wines, the identity of the brand and the efficiency of the distribution network are paying. The value of the dollar versus the euro is helping obviously.”

The strength of the dollar against the euro recently has certainly helped sales of Champagne in the U.S. Xavier Barlier, vice president of marketing and communication for Maisons Marques & Domaines, Roederer’s U.S. subsidiary, also cited this as a factor in his Champagne house’s recent success.

The CIVC’s Lorson, though optimistic, remains cautious. “At the moment we are enjoying growth. We do not know if it is a steady recovery,” he said. “The situation is better than a year ago, because the destocking is over in most of our export markets. But the consumers are still trading down, which is not good for those who had based their prosperity on premium and superpremium cuvées.”

There is still a long climb for Champagne to reach 2006’s peak of 23.2 million bottles shipped to the U.S. “Our industry is very much dependent on the global economic situation, today more than ever,” said Lorson.

Wine Spectator

CHAMPAGNE CHARLIE

Les Americains might still be teetotalers if it weren’t for Champagne Charlie, who filled flutes to the brim across the Atlantic rim when he visited the Etats-Unis. The Age of Innocence didn’t know what hit them when the fun-loving francophone Charles Heidsieck swaggered onto the haute New York City society scene with bottles of bubbly tucked under his arm.

The eponymously-named son of a champagne merchant, Charles was appalled to notice while on his grand tour of Nouvelle Angleterre et Nouvelle York that the swank fetes he attended from Back Bay to the Breakers to the Upper East Side were bereft of bubbly. Coming from a long family tradition of never-one-to-miss-an-opportunity (his father, after all, was famous for riding ahead of Napoleon with cases of champagne to sell for the famed victory parties) he immediately saw the potential for exporting his French family brew to the United States and considered it to be his life’s mission to inebriate the American bourgeois. And once he plied heirs and heiresses with their first “taste of the stars” they thought he’d hung the moon.

America loved Charlie. And Charlie loved champagne. Charles quickly found a sales agent to help him import champagne from his home near Reims to the nouveau monde. Parades and banquets were held in his honor with corks popping and pomp and circumstance following him wherever he went. The New York Times sang his praises, giving the type of publicity the PR agencies representing champagne houses today pray for. Almost overnight, Champagne Charlie was living the American Dream.

The Yankees didn’t have a monopoly on Heidsieck and despite the brewing tensions between the North and South, the libations introduced in Manhattan slipped their way south into the seaside mansions of Charleston, debutante balls in Savannah and cotillions in Memphis. A formal dinner wasn’t considered dinner in New Orleans without some champagne and in Atlanta plantations wouldn’t be caught dead without having bubbly on hand. Frankly, my dear, everyone who was anyone gave a damn about this nouveau import called champagne.

And while all’s well that ends well, Heidsieck’s road to success wasn’t simply smooth sailing. While America stayed enamored with the golden god Charlie introduced, he fell from good graces when he was accused of being a spy and subsequently imprisoned. In a life story that reminds one they should always choose their business partners wisely, Heidsick was betrayed by the agent whom he’d hired to roll out the bottle of bubbly to the American market.

Charles had imported heavily from France to America and more than half his family fortune was tied up overseas. His sales agent loved the success the importation of champagne had brought him, but he got greedy and felt he should be getting more recognition and funds from the sale of champagne than he was currently receiving. When the Civil War erupted it provided the perfect excuse to knock Charlie from his pedestal and to pad his own pockets. The agent twisted a law meant to restrict the movement of funds between the North and South to apply to the importation of products from abroad, leaving Heidsieck up the proverbial creek without a paddle and penniless. Charles’s only hope was that the Southerners had more morals than his New York sales agent.

Going South, Champagne Charlie prayed the Southern merchants who had received his champagne would be willing to pay him directly. And while their hearts might have been willing, their pocketbooks weren’t—the South was nearly bankrupt by the war and incapable of paying their debts. Even worse, Charles discovered that the routes back to the north were sealed and he had no choice but to return to La République with his tail between his legs. To facilitate his passage, the French Consul asked Heidsieck to deliver a diplomatic pouch on his behalf, and in a move that can only be described as kicking a dog when he’s down, the diplomatic pouch was seized by the Union. Heidsieck—a man beloved by America—was accused of spying for both the Confederacy and the French government. Tossed in the slammer, his pleas of innocence and ignorance of the pouch’s contents were ignored.

Fortunately for Charlie, he was a well-connected chap and word of his unfair imprisonment leaked. Before long President Abraham Lincoln and the French Emperor Napoleon III were embroiled in deep conversations over “The Heidsieck Incident”. While discussions over his release prevailed, Heidsieck’s health failed as he was denied his daily elixir of champagne. His family was nearly bankrupt by the incident and began selling plots of valuable land in the Champagne region to pay Heidsieck’s debts and upon his release from prison for his safe passage to France. And that might have been the end of the story, had it not been for an American missionary who approached Charles a few years later while he convalesced in France with a letter he’d been asked to hand-deliver across the pond.

The brother of Heidsieck’s former sales agent in New York was ashamed of his brother’s actions that had cheated Heidsieck out of his income and led indirectly to his imprisonment simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong message in his pocket. As a gift of reconciliation, the agent’s brother offered Heidsieck a stack of deeds granting him 1/3 ownership of a tiny village in Colorado. And while initially Heidsieck scoffed, that tiny village became one of the largest and wealthiest cities on the American frontier and, with the proceeds Champagne Charlie earned by selling his deeds to Denver, he was able to relaunch his champagne house. Today, over 120 years after Champagne Charlie’s death, Piper Heidsieck is one of the premier champagne houses in France and America still has a love affair with champagne.Les Americains might still be teetollers if it weren’t for Champagne Charlie, who filled flutes to the brim across the Atlantic rim when he visited the Etats-Unis. The Age of Innocence didn’t know what hit them when the fun-loving francophone Charles Heidsieck swaggered onto the haute New York City society scene with bottles of bubbly tucked under his arm.

The eponymously named son of a champagne merchant, Charles was appalled to notice while on his grand tour of Nouvelle Angleterre et Nouvelle York that the swank fetes he attended from Back Bay to the Breakers to the Upper East Side were bereft of bubbly. Coming from a long family tradition of never-one-to-miss-an-opportunity (his father, after all, was famous for riding ahead of Napoleon with cases of champagne to sell for the famed victory parties) he immediately saw the potential for exporting his French family brew to the United States and considered it to be his life’s mission to inebriate the American bourgeois. And once he plied heirs and heiresses with their first “taste of the stars” they thought he’d hung the moon.

America loved Charlie. And Charlie loved champagne.
Charles quickly found a sales agent to help him import champagne from his home near Reims to the nouveau monde. Parades and banquets were held in his honor with corks popping and pomp and circumstance following him wherever he went. The New York Times sang his praises, giving the type of publicity the PR agencies representing champagne houses today pray for. Almost overnight, Champagne Charlie was living the American Dream.

The Yankees didn’t have a monopoly on Heidsieck and despite the brewing tensions between the North and South, the libations introduced in Manhattan slipped their way south into the seaside mansions of Charleston, debutante balls in Savannah and cotillions in Memphis. A formal dinner wasn’t considered dinner in New Orleans without some champagne and in Atlanta plantations wouldn’t be caught dead without having bubbly on hand. Frankly, my dear, everyone who was anyone gave a damn about this nouveau import called champagne.

And while all’s well that ends well, Heidsieck’s road to success wasn’t simply smooth sailing. While America stayed enamored with the golden god Charlie introduced, he fell from good graces when he was accused of being a spy and subsequently imprisoned. In a life story that reminds one they should always choose their business partners wisely, Heidsick was betrayed by the agent whom he’d hired to roll out the bottle of bubbly to the American market.

Charles had imported heavily from France to America and more than half his family fortune was tied up overseas. His sales agent loved the success the importation of champagne had brought him, but he got greedy and felt he should be getting more recognition and funds from the sale of champagne than he was currently receiving. When the Civil War erupted it provided the perfect excuse to knock Charlie from his pedestal and to pad his own pockets. The agent twisted a law meant to restrict the movement of funds between the North and South to apply to the importation of products from abroad, leaving Heidsieck up the proverbial creek without a paddle and penniless. Charles’s only hope was that the Southerners had more morals than his New York sales agent.

Going South, Champagne Charlie prayed the Southern merchants who had received his champagne would be willing to pay him directly. And while their hearts might have been willing, their pocketbooks weren’t—the South was nearly bankrupt by the war and incapable of paying their debts. Even worse, Charles discovered that the routes back to the north were sealed and he had no choice but to return to La République with his tail between his legs. To facilitate his passage, the French Consul asked Heidsieck to deliver a diplomatic pouch on his behalf, and in a move that can only be described as kicking a dog when he’s down, the diplomatic pouch was seized by the Union. Heidsieck—a man beloved by America—was accused of spying for both the Confederacy and the French government. Tossed in the slammer, his pleas of innocence and ignorance of the pouch’s contents were ignored.

Fortunately for Charlie, he was a well-connected chap and word of his unfair imprisonment leaked. Before long President Abraham Lincoln and the French Emperor Napoleon III were embroiled in deep conversations over “The Heidsieck Incident”. While discussions over his release prevailed, Heidsieck’s health failed as he was denied his daily elixir of champagne. His family was nearly bankrupt by the incident and began selling plots of valuable land in the Champagne region to pay Heidsieck’s debts and upon his release from prison for his safe passage to France. And that might have been the end of the story, had it not been for an American missionary who approached Charles a few years later while he convalesced in France with a letter he’d been asked to hand-deliver across the pond.

The brother of Heidsieck’s former sales agent in New York was ashamed of his brother’s actions that had cheated Heidsieck out of his income and led indirectly to his imprisonment simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong message in his pocket. As a gift of reconciliation, the agent’s brother offered Heidsieck a stack of deeds granting him 1/3 ownership of a tiny village in Colorado. And while initially Heidsieck scoffed, that tiny village became one of the largest and wealthiest cities on the American frontier and, with the proceeds Champagne Charlie earned by selling his deeds to Denver, he was able to relaunch his champagne house. Today, over 120 years after Champagne Charlie’s death, Piper Heidsieck is one of the premier champagne houses in France and America still has a love affair with champagne.

Santé!
Bonjour Paris