Why Champagne is so expensive
It’s based on the region
The Champagne region of France is home to a $5 billion industry.
Literally all Champagne is produced there, and many people want the real deal.
As the region is very small – covering a total of only 34,000 hectares – there are only so many grapes that can be grown there.
The real estate is highly sought after, and it’s an expensive region in Europe.
Champagne is divided into four regions: Vallee de la Marne, Cote des Blancs, Cote des Bar, and Montagne de Reims.
Any of these regions provides you with the bubbly that the world has come to know and love.
Different grapes are used
You’ll find that not all Champagne is made from the same types of grapes.
The only requirement to be called Champagne is that the grapes are grown in the Champagne region and that there’s carbonation present.
The most common types of grapes that are used include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
Not all of these grapes are easy to grow, so it can add to the overall costs of maintaining the vineyard.
As the maintenance costs increase, so does the cost of the wine.
Some other grape varieties are also used when making Champagne.
This includes Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meslier, and Arbane.
They’re not as commonly used, but some vineyards will use them either for flavour or to compensate for not having enough of one of the more common grape varieties.
With so many grapes to choose from, vineyards have the ability to make Champagne using one or more varieties.
Many will choose grapes based on the overall cost as well as the ease to grow them.
As soon as grapes become difficult, the yield for the season may not be as great.
Some vineyards will also choose to use the higher-end grapes because they know that it will offer a unique flavour that will allow them to charge more per bottle
The weather is harsh
Grapes need to be harvested at the perfect time of the year.
If they are harvested too early, they won’t have the full-bodied flavour.
If they are harvested too late, there may not be sufficient juice, or they could be too sweet.
Throughout the year, the grapes need to stay alive.
If there’s too much harsh weather, a significant amount of the crop may be lost.
In the Champagne region, it’s relatively cold, and this can make it difficult to grow grapes.
This requires extra effort from those working the vineyards.
It also means that a full harvest will rarely happen.
A vineyard’s ability to produce a certain number of bottles of wine is limited by the size of the harvest.
When the harvest is small because of harsh weather, they won’t be able to produce as many bottles.
When a vintage is smaller, it can raise the cost of the bottles because the vineyards still have to turn a profit.
You’ll want to compare the temperature of Champagne, France to Napa Valley, California.
Realistically, California has a better range of temperatures, and that allows California to produce affordable sparkling wines.
When Champagne has an average temperature of only 52, the grapes are more susceptible to severe weather conditions.
Plus, the continental influence in the region can bring about a winter frost that could affect the grape crops considerably.
It’s a time-consuming process
The more time that goes into creating a batch of the sparkling wine means more labour and more time that it will take for the vineyard to see their profits from the time that the grapes are harvested.
Champagne is made via the methode champenoise or methode traditionelle.
There’s a primary fermenting process that creates the wine before it goes into the bottle.
The secondary fermenting process happens inside the bottle.
A mixture of yeast and sugar, known as tirage, is added to the bottle.
The secondary fermenting process then takes place.
Once the secondary fermenting process is complete, there’s a time-consuming process where dead yeasts (called lees) have to be removed.
The bottles go through riddling, which requires the bottles to be turned upside down slowly.
The gradual process brings the lees to the bottom of the neck.
When the lees have reached the top of the neck, the bottlenecks are frozen.
A temporary cap is removed.
Then, pressure shoots the frozen block of lees out.
This process is known as disgorgement.
The leftover space that remains in the bottle is then filled with liqueur d’expedition in a process known as dosage.
This process is not like traditional wine. It can take years to complete.
At the minimum, Champagne must age for 15 months on the lees.
Then, for a vintage Champagne, it must age for at least 36 months.
When you consider that it can take three years (or more) to turn grapes harvested from the vineyard into a sellable product, you can see why the cost can be substantially higher than your typical wine.
Other sparkling wines are produced inside of a tank. It’s less time-consuming, and it doesn’t involve the lees.
It still produces flavourful wine, but the aromas aren’t going to be as strong, and the bubbles aren’t going to be quite as effervescent.
Since there’s less time involved, the costs are typically lower, too.
Better vintages are more money
Many vineyards will offer two types of “exclusive” Champagne within their range.
Vintage is based on the year in which the grape was harvested.
The year will be printed on the bottle. Some years are considered better than others because of the weather conditions.
Too much rain, too much sun, and such things can affect the flavour of the grape, thus impacting the overall flavour of the Champagne.
Some vineyards won’t bottle their Champagne right away, either.
They’ll let it sit in the cellars for a decade or longer.
A 150cl fine vintage with a price tag of RM2,250 available at aeclub.com.my
Wine grapes that may have been harvested in the 1990s may just be getting released now.
The older vintage makes it highly sought after and more expensive.
You’ll also find that some vineyards offer what is known as a Prestige Cuvee.
This is considered the premium product within the range of wines.
Not all vineyards offer it.
When you can find it, you can be confident that the very best grapes from a particular vintage have gone into the bottle.
Since only a limited number of grapes will make the cut, there are usually not a large number of bottles released as a Prestige Cuvee from a vineyard in a given year.
Once you get into limited quantities, you are subject to supply and demand.
The supply is limited and the demand high, so the prices will be high to compensate.
You pay for the brand
There are a lot of different brands of Champagne.
Some of the most popular include Dom Perignon, Cristal, and Krug.
Each brand has its own way of fermenting, but it will go through the same overall process.
You will spend more on a bottle of high-end Champagne just as you would spend more on a bottle of high-end wine.
Some brands or wineries simply have a better reputation.
When you order a particular brand, heads may turn because people know that you have ordered an expensive brand.
They all come from the same small part of the world.
However, some brands will use different grapes.
Some will have better marketing campaigns, and yes, you may actually spend more on Champagne from a brand that has a better marketing strategy.
They go out of their way to promote themselves as being the best, even when they may not be.
The best way to know whether you’re getting your money’s worth from the different brands is by tasting them.
Champagne tends to be a prestigious drink.
It’s synonymous with wealth and luxury.
Often, Champagne is regarded as prestigious even before you know the brand.
It’s even served in its own type of glass—a fluted wine glass.
It’s designed to let the bubbles stay alive.
If there’s too much surface area, the bubbles will fizzle out, which means that you lose the mouth feel that Champagne is known for.
It’s also important to note that a true Champagne is going to be enjoyed by itself.
While there are plenty of drinks that advertise that they’re made with Champagne (such as a mimosa), you’ll want to read the bottle that’s being used.
Almost always, it will be a prosecco or a sparkling wine.
You get the bubbles without having to ruin an expensive Champagne by splashing orange juice into it.