The corks were popping and the champagne flowing…

Interview by Petra Harmer-Shrowder

Another year another fabulous Champagne event for the trade. Tyson Stelzer and Black Events certainly know how to create the right setting and bring many Champagne houses and distributors together.

Coupled with Tyson’s launch of Taste Champagne Australia 2021 Series V11 book we were able to taste the best of Champagne on offer here in Australia.

I interviewed Tyson for his take on matters and trends of all things champagne:

Q1. Would you say that the climate has changed for the consumers drinking champagne since Covid hit?

A1. “Yes, but not in the way you would expect. There was one country in the world where the consumption of champagne actually increased rather than decreased, and that was Australia. You would have expected after that with such strong sales in 2020 that 2021 might have levelled off but quite the opposite in fact Australia enjoyed a record 9.9 million bottles of champagne which was way up even on the high levels of 2020 and the value increased as well. So, we are more interested in vintage and prestige in premium champagne as opposed to discounted and supermarket champagne and that’s an amazing trend that not only bucks the global trend but supposed everyone’s expectations and not least my own.”

Q2 What type of champagne seems to be now in vogue?

A.2 “That’s a massive question, Australia has forever had a huge dominance and more than any other country of the big champagne markets. On the entry level, non-vintage large house, affordable cuvees, and that’s still the case but it is slowly changing. There is a slow change towards more interesting prestige, rosé, and vintage and in smaller growers but that’s a very slow progression. Australia is maturing its champagne tastes but still has a long way to go in better embracing styles that are more interesting. We are still the smallest of the big markets in our interest in growers, cooperatives in vintage in rose in prestige, so we have got some distance to make up there and that will happen now that Australia has grown in volume tenfold in 20 years of champagne consumption, the time now is for us to focus more increasing quality and diversity in our champagne taste and that has happening slowly.”

Q3 What is your favourite champagne?

A3 “I have in my champagne guide a number of houses that are listed, the very top level that are 10/10 and at the moment they include houses like Krug, Charles Heidsick, Billecart, Bollinger and Francis Piglieria which are one of my favourite growers.”

Q4 Are there any new trends that you would like to share?

A4 “It is fascinating to see how the trends in champagne are changing over time and perhaps there has been a dichotomy in the market between those interested in the mainstream brands in the larger houses and those interested in the growers. But the trend of recent decades is that there is very much a blearing of that line such that more and more big houses are making more and more single cru single vineyard wines, small production interesting vitrification oak and others, that makes them look a lot more like a grower and often from their own vineyards.

Meanwhile many of the better growers are changing over their sourcing to buy from other growers and they are no longer classified as growers and are mini negociants. Where small growers are becoming more and more like houses and more and more houses that are becoming more like growers such that the blearing is no longer theirs and so a sommelier who might say I only support growers or a buyer might say I am only interested in the big brands. I would say there is great diversity in champagne and that line doesn’t exist anymore and a tasting like Taste Champagne where we have 200 cuvees today is a chance to compare everything from the smallest grower to the biggest houses and see that they are playing in a very similar space, even if the scales are quite different.”

Having talked with the founder of Taste Champagne Australia, it was important to gather more information from the champagne houses and exhibitors, asking the same four questions. Here’s what they said:

QuestionsAngelica Nohra, Star BeveragesPaul Stenmark, WinestockJordan Gravestein, CoravinNick Dodds, Sante Wines
Q1 Would you say that the climate has changed for the consumers drinking champagne since Covid hit?It’s a tricky one, while people were in lockdown, there wasn’t much to celebrate so I’d say they weren’t drinking as much as they usually would. They did, however, save quite a bit of money so now that we can go out and celebrate together again, more champagne is being bought and consumed.  Initially there was a bit of a “party while Rome burns” attitude and sales boomed. Retail sales have levelled out to be a little flat.Bit more of a sober feeling with weather, war and covid.I think people are generally drinking less but drinking better quality. Over covid, we weren’t going to restaurants or spending money on entertainment, so many people spent a little more and began learning more about wine. Yes, the climate has changed a great deal with the up scaling of all premium beverages. Premium local and imported wines has never been more desired.Imported wine in particular Champagne has had the added pressure of new larger markets continuing grow as we come out of Covid eg Middle East, India and China which is out stripping supply.Shipping and stalled logistics channels are unable to meet normal deadlines leaving constant gaps in the market.People are looking to celebrate life again and Champagne is at the forefront in this market.People are often drinking less but desiring more premium and boutique products.
Q2 What type of champagne seems to be now in vogue?Seeing a huge trend towards Blanc de Blancs. Maybe it’s the aussie love of ChardyBlanc de Blancs (Any wine using Coravin) I think its best described like this. Get home from work, 5:30pm – glass of chardonnay, 6pm, glass of pinot cooking dinner, 7pm glass of Bordeaux with the meal, or Champagne of course. Blanc de Blanc and Independent Grower based styles 
Q3 Any new trends you would like to share?There’s a move towards more terroir driven champagne. Extra Brut and Brut Nature styles that really highlight the extraordinary soil types and regions of Champagne without hiding behind dosage.  Consumer awareness of grower champagnes, Cru classification and non non-vintage wines. Big interest in Grower champagne at the moment! Grower Champagnes, Sustainable and organic viticulture 
Q4 What is your favourite champagne?That’s like asking what my favourite child is. All time fav would be Sir Winston Churchill but for everyday, it’s Lombard Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs and Abelé 1757’s Blanc de Blancs Henriot Blanc de Blancs Krug, love the toasty brioche elements in champagne Really enjoying Forget Brimont Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc which is anindependent sixth generation producer, Sustainably grown coming off some of the best vineyards in the Cote des Blanc being Avize, Oger and Mesnil vineyards.Value for money in comparison to some of the more corporate houses. Other brands I am enjoying include Pierre Peters, Jacquesson and Franck Bonville Champagnes. 

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