From climate change to novel business models, there are plenty of factors that may dramatically alter the landscape of champagne in the coming years

For an insider view of where champagne is headed, I asked two champagne experts: Essi Avellan MW, Champagne specialist, author of Essi Avellan’s Champagne and Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine and Finland’s First Master of Wine; and Peter Liem, Champagne resident and author of ChampagneGuide.net and the James Beard-winning book Champagne: The Essential Guide.  They’ve share key trends, changes they hope to see and producers effectively future-proofing or actively helping shape the future.

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Climate Change

Both Liem and Avellan start with this critical issue. “Many champagne producers are quick to cite its benefits in the short term,” says Liem, but he worries about the future, given increasingly frequent and severe storms, hail and frost plus growing disease threats with warmer weather. The shorter growing season leaves less time to develop complexity, he says and sugar ripeness is arriving more quickly than “physiological” ripeness, raising potential alcohol and lowering acidity. Avellan notes the prevalence of “warm vintage taste profiles” and says “in today’s climate there is less need to ’correct’ the wines” but that going forward reserve wines will have to be adapted for freshening rather than enriching the blend. 

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Sustainability

More positive is Champagne’s progress in sustainability over the past 20 years. Liem partially credits what he calls "progressive producers”, but also important regional initiatives. He isn’t fixated on percentages of certified organic or biodynamic vineyards, not of interest to many top Champagne viticulturalists, since certifications can be overly rigid or inappropriate for the region’s wet climate. Fighting diseases like downy mildew organically requires significant amounts of copper and tractor usage while light synthetics use could have less overall environmental impact, he says. Sustainability factors like biodiversity, carbon footprint, and waste and water management are addressed by HVE3 and Viticulture Durable en Champagne, he says. He also thinks progressive ideas like regenerative viticulture, no-till farming and agroecology are likely future regional priorities.

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Refinement of Quality

Avellan cites Prosecco, Franciacorta, Trento Doc and English sparkling wine as prods for Champagne to re-focus on quality and value creation. Liem says Champagne’s quality focus has advanced significantly in a relatively short time; quality differences between top wines from great vintages like 2002 and 2012 are not just vintage-based but reflect considerable progress in viticulture and winemaking. He finds greater precision and energy with a clearer transmission of site character.

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More Vintage Variations—Even Among NV Champagnes

Avellan says consumers’ increased interest in Champagne will challenge the emphasis on consistency for brut non-vintage. She believes edition numbered cuvées like Louis Roederer Collection, Jacquesson 700-series, Krug Grande Cuvée or Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle will become the new norm.

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Grower and Terroir Champagnes Stay in the Limelight

Avellan predicts “star growers will continue their ascent” but most small producers will face challenges. 

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Novel Business Models

I’ve also noted evolving business models that allow small players to compete in a challenging environment: former top growers setting aside the rigid confines of RM status to allow them to grow to economically viable levels; quality-focused mini-cooperatives e.g. Sanger affording young winemakers opportunities for hands-on experience and mentorship while studying. 

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Industrialisation

Liem says unfortunately not all trends are positive, citing the recent vote to lower planting density and introduce the new voltis grape variety. Despite apparently sound reasoning, he says the results of the CIVC's testing have been criticised for an accelerated timetable and lacking transparency. He says the motivation is economic, allowing increased viticultural mechanisation and reducing labor costs and grape prices, even at the expense of quality.

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Less Wasteful Packaging

Though beautiful gift boxes and elaborate bottles (some gorgeous!) feel intrinsic to champagne, I am personally happy to see more eco-conscious options like the Ruinart “second skin:” a recyclable, lightweight paper sleeve that protects the wine from light strikes.

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Champagne is Being Seen as a "Wine"

Avellan says she finds Champagne to be at an exciting point, with its “lightness and elegance” matching modern wine consumers’ palates, women globally drinking more wine and its gastronomic qualities providing new consumption occasions.

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Broader Adoption of Champagne by F&B

I myself and Hong Kong OCC Consul Roland Müksch have been struck by the profusion of champagne on Hong Kong wine lists. Ever better preservation systems like the new Coravin Sparkling, currently used at Pétrus and James Suckling Wine Central with more to come, are helping move champagne beyond that single by-the-glass slot.

What changes do you hope to see over the next decade?

Liem hopes for commitment to real sustainability in the region as a whole rather than just among top producers; “not just labels or certification but an awareness of a larger context.” He also wants less “black and white” thinking on issues like dosage, sulfur, organics and other polarising aspects of champagne production.

Avellan hopes to see low or no dosage and low sulphur levels—a risky combination for champagne’s age-worthiness—become less of a marketing message. She also says increasingly popular clear glass bottles, though sales friendly, should be banned as champagne is highly vulnerable to light damage but consumers and trade are not sufficiently aware of the issue.

Which brands have got it right? 

Liem and Avellan both tap Louis Roederer, which Avellan calls “a trailblazer of biodynamics and terroir-lead Champagne making.”  Liem lauds their work in all aspects of production, from cutting-edge viticulture to genetic vine material to innovations in winemaking and Avellan applauds their reinvention of their brut non-vintage. 

Liem says Antoine Paillard of Pierre Paillard is spearheading an important project to identify and preserve high-quality massale selections across the region.  Vine material is a huge issue, he says, thanks to high-producing clones favored in the latter part of the 20th century.

Among growers, Avellan names Moussé Fils as a leader in sustainability and innovation with their new, highly ecological winery; they even produce their own SO2 to minimise fossil fuel use. She also cites Bollinger as a “house on the up after a long era of sticking to the traditional ways” thanks to new product innovations.