Champagne Bollinger’s strongest export growth is coming from the Asia-Pacific region and Sweden, with potential for more sales in China, according to Jerome Philipon, the winemaker’s president.
“The growth is essentially coming from Japan, Australia and northern Europe,” Philipon said in an interview last week as the 2002 vintage of Bollinger R.D. champagne went on sale in the U.K., marking the 50th anniversary of a wine made in small volumes and priced at more than $200 a bottle. “These are the markets where we are seeing significant success.”
Demand for champagne in Asian markets has grown as collectors sought to diversify away from top Bordeaux estates that drove a bull market through mid-2011, before prices for those wines slumped. At the same time, the financial crisis since 2008 and downturn in major economies has curbed consumer demand for champagne in traditional markets such as the U.K.
The champagne house, founded in 1829 and run by Bollinger family members for most of its history, has shipped wines to the U.K. for more than 150 years, according to its website. While present in about 100 countries, it’s focused on 12 main markets, according to Philipon, who took charge in 2008.
“The U.K. will remain our largest, most important country” for exports, he said. Sweden has been driving Scandinavian growth, he added.
While Ay, France-based Bollinger doesn’t disclose detailed sales and production data, Philipon said output is 1 percent of the global champagne market of about 300 million bottles. The Bollinger R.D. brand, only produced in selected years, is a small proportion of that.
The 2002 Bollinger R.D., which stands for Recemment Degorge, or “recently disgorged,” a reference to the maturation process, is a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir grapes and 40 percent Chardonnay, according to Bollinger’s website.
The champagne is priced at 623 pounds ($1,036) in bond, excluding duty and tax, for a six-bottle case at London merchant Fine+Rare and 624 pounds at Berry Bros. & Rudd, according to their websites.
Data from the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, or CIVC, show that while champagne shipments outside France and the European Union climbed 3.2 percent to 63 million bottles last year, global sales fell 1.5 percent to 304 million. Exports to the EU fell 3.4 percent to 74 million bottles while French sales dropped 2.3 percent to 167 million.
While the U.K., U.S. and Germany held their positions as the top three export markets for Champagne over the years from 2008 to 2012, Japan climbed to fourth from sixth as sales rose 9 percent over the period, according to the CIVC.
Champagne sales in the U.K. fell 10 percent to 32.4 million bottles in 2012 from 36 million in 2008, while those in the U.S. rose 3 percent to 17.7 million, according to the CIVC. In Germany they rose 9 percent to 12.6 million.
Other markets making up the top 10 export destinations for champagne in 2012, the latest year for which full data is available, were Belgium in fifth place and Italy in sixth, followed by Australia, Switzerland, Spain and Sweden.
China and Hong Kong are still outside the top 10. Chinese sales more than doubled to 2 million bottles from 897,000 between 2008 and 2012, according to CIVC data. Sales in Hong Kong rose 52 percent to 1.58 million.
Philipon said he expects growth from China, where collectors developed an appetite for Bordeaux and Burgundy in recent years.
“China, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind, will be one day a significant market for quality and branded Champagne,” Philipon said. “We have all the ingredients.”
Demand from new markets helped drive the Liv-ex Champagne 50 Index, tracking trades on the London-based wine market, up 4.4 percent in the year to the end of February. That compared with a 2.9 percent drop in the broader Liv-ex 1000 Index, according to data on Liv-ex’s Cellar Watch website.