As Champagne’s most distant market, with a comparatively small population, it would be easy to consider Australia insignificant in the landscape of worldwide sales for France’s finest bubbles. Not so, says Global Executive Director of Piper-Heidsieck, Benoit Collard, who ranks Australia as their number one priority across the globe.
Speaking over lunch at Piper-Heidsieck’s headquarters in Reims, Collard says he sees significant potential in recent market developments beyond the success of their entry-level Brut Non-Vintage for which they are best known.
Collard says he sees significant potential in recent market developments beyond the success of their entry-level Brut Non-Vintage for which they are best known.
“Last year’s shipments to Australia grew again. The market keeps on growing and you can see a trend. What I like in Australia is that you can see the market slowly growing from a purely non-vintage point of view to more rosé and vintages,” he says. “Still, it’s small and they will remain categories that not many people understand. But there’s a lot of opportunity because people are wanting to know more and try more.”
By this, Collard refers to the industry’s published export figures for 2017. In Australia, volume shipped has been largely forged by an insatiable appetite for non-vintage cuvées of which we pop some 22 bottles out of every 25. However, in 2017 this category dropped by 2.4%. Still, volume was up, by almost 16%, but most surprising was value – surging ahead by 23% on the year before. Figures, such as these, highlight Australia’s potential to diversify out of the non-vintage category and into others.
Opportunities appear particularly strong for Piper-Heidsieck, even with brand recognition so heavily invested in their entry level non-vintage cuvée, often subject to price-based promotion. Whilst Collard does admit that price positioning doesn’t match what they’d like to see in the market (which is mostly driven by retailers), he believes it is no indicator of quality. He points to the string of awards the House has picked up in the last two decades.
“Our chef de cave has been awarded best winemaker eight times since 2002,” he says. “Our wine always meets expectations. There’s freshness, fruitiness, acidity, nice maturity. Part of it is the quality from the vineyards but another element is to keep raising our winemaking credentials. If you ask people what they think, they say ‘well, if I feel like a glass of champagne then when I drink Piper, I get what I expect’. People can trust it [our quality].”
A steady hand in the cellar has made Piper-Heidsieck one of the best and most reliable non-vintage champagnes on the market. Unfailingly bright, fruity and toasty, underscored by bright malic acidity, it is surprisingly complex and delicious. The classic blend accounts for no less than 100 crus taken from across the region, including some signature sites in the Côte des Bar where it borrows some weighty Pinot Noir character. Reserves, held in cool 300 – 500hL stainless steel tanks, comprise 15% – 20% of the final blend, keeping things pure and focused. And each bottle receives no less than four years on lees, up from 2-3 years previously. It is proof that quality and price do not always share a parallel relationship.
Read the full story in ISSUE NO. 1 of VINE & BUBBLE Magazine.
WORDS | Sara Underdown
PHOTOGRAPHY | Sara Underdown and Piper-Heidsieck supplied