Why Is Real Champagne So Expensive?

Champagne is synonymous with wealth and luxury. It often costs double the price of other sparkling wines, such as prosecco or cava. A decent-quality bottle of it can cost you anywhere from $50 to $300, and vintages can often sell for $1,000.

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So, what makes Champagne so expensive?

Champagne is often used as a generic name for sparkling wine. But, in fact, Champagne is only true Champagne if it’s made in Champagne. About 150 km east of Paris, this highly protected region of Champagne in France is home to the world’s most prestigious, and expensive, Champagne sellers and cellars, such as Moet & Chandon and Perrier- Jouet. 

All of the sparkling wines made outside of this region, even those from neighboring parts of France, must be labeled as sparkling wine, not by the name of champagne. which means in this relatively small area, a little over two times the size of San Francisco, the world’s entire stock of true Champagne is made. 

That’s over 300 million bottles every year, with over annual revenue of over $5 billion. The sales of Champagne have grown steadily since the 1950s, but its future growth depends on the protection of the region’s unique climate. 

Northern France’s different weather and environmental conditions are the first factors for elevated prices. With an average temperature of 50 Fahrenheit, the Champagne region is cooler than France’s other wine-growing regions, which gives the grapes the right acidity for sparkling wine production.

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But, an often freezing continental weather front makes the winemaking process harder than other dependable ecosystems. 

During harvest, 120,000 workers come to this region of Champagne to pick grapes from 84,000 acres of vines.

Authentic Champagne is produced using a special method called “methode champenoise”, where the wine undergoes primary fermentation in oak or stainless-steel vats and secondary fermentation inside the bottle. This wine-making technique is controlled and restricted within the European Union so wines from outside the Champagne region cannot be described as Champagne.

But, wines from all over the world are produced using the exact same methods, but they are labeled as sparkling wine, produced by the method called “methode traditionnelle”.

Some winemakers in countries outside of the European Union ignore the labeling laws altogether and continue to produce sparkling wine bearing the “Champagne” name. These imitations are constantly challenged by the Comite Champagne, which works with more than 80 lawyers worldwide to protect the authentic Champagne brand.

True Champagne comes with the history and prestige of the region, despite similarities in production and possibly taste.

History of Champagne 

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In the 3rd century when the Romans first planted vineyards in northeastern France, Champagne production started in France.  

In the mid 17th century, with the development of bottled fermentation, This drink officially became a sacred drink when it was served at the king’s courts during the accession of Louis XIV.   

However, the carbon dioxide gas which builds up inside these early bottles, often causes them to explode in the cellars. It takes great effort to get rid of the bubbles in the wine.  

During the 19th century, especially among the rich and royalty, the sparkling version of Champagne had grown in popularity. The modern Champagne industry began to form as the large Champagne houses optimized mass production of sparkling Champagne with the development of thicker glass and corks.

Amazingly, some Champagne production still continued, despite the region becoming a key battlefield during both World War I and World War II. It is estimated that about 40% of Champagne’s vineyards had been destroyed by the end of the great war.

Bottles made during either war fetch a high price because of the cutback in production. In 2015, a Krug cellar visit and a tasting of their wartime 1915 vintage were auctioned by Sotheby’s for $116,000.

From crowning kings to launching great ships, affiliation with luxury, wealth, and celebrity has kept Champagne’s price high. Jay-Z has also gotten in the action.

In 2015, he became part owner of a Champagne brand run by the Cattier family, Armed de Brignac, aka “Ace of Spades”. In September 2019, he released three vintages, from 2009, 2010, and 2012 which are their rarest, priciest Cuvee yet. 

One bottle costs $1,000 per bottle. Only 3,535 bottles were made available. The wine was left to age for six years until the bottle.

What about the future?

As a result of worrying statistics, Champagne became the world’s first wine-growing region that examines its carbon footprint and implements a carbon plan. But, the grape harvest dates have moved forward by a fortnight because global warming has seen temperatures in the region rise by 1.2 degrees celsius over the last 30 years. 

As Champagne’s perfect climatic conditions are changing and the Paris accord climate targets are failing to keep up with global warming, the future of winemaking in this historic region could be in jeopardy.                                

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