Thanks to the perfect storm of a soaring Aussie dollar, a cash-rich mining industry and continuous in-store promotional discount campaigns, more and more Australians have become totally smitten by the world’s most popular party tipple. In 2011 champagne sales in Australia jumped by more than 30% to 4.862 million bottles.
With an average age in their late thirties, Australian champagne drinkers are often at outdoor social gatherings (horseracing, weddings, festivals, New Years Eve etc) where champagne is usually consumed as an aperitif without food. For this reason Champagne sales tend to be quite seasonal. In Australia twice as many people buy champagne to drink themselves rather than to offer as a gift, perhaps no surprise then that females account for 2/3rds of the consumption. The state of New South Wales (NSW) alone accounts for 37% of champagne consumption and Sydney’s “The Diamond Collective*” is its heartland.
The restaurant industry accounts for 32% of Australian champagne sales (with 20% of those sales by the glass) and champagne afficionados like Nick Hilderbrandt, former sommelier of the year and co-owner of award-winning restaurant The Bentley which features Sydney’s best champagne list, prefer to source hard to get unusual champagnes through auction rather than focus on the big champagne brands: “To 90% of the Australian population champagne is sparkling wine, but they don’t actually know that Champagne itself is an appellation. Champagne is seen as a luxury product and something to be drunk on special occasions, whilst sparkling wine is consumed on more occasions and drunk in greater volume – so both products have their place. I still think local sparkling wines aspire to be similar to champagne in terms of production, taste, packaging and marketing, but champagne is always the more expensive.”
So far so good, but its not all a bed of roses down under for the champagne industry, as the retail price of champagne in Australia has collapsed from a steady AUS$70-80 per bottle in 2007 (pre Global Financial Crisis) to today’s average promotional price of $45 -$55 in 2012. Naturally these price reductions have recruited new consumers to the category, but as Comite Interprofessionel de Vins de Champagne communications director,Thibaut Le Mailloux confirmed during his September 2012 visit to Australia “Champagne is now extremely cheap in Australia. In the short term it helps us grow volume, which is great for the business, but we have to make sure that consumers are paying the right price.”
Dan Murphy’s National Fine Wine Manager, Peter Nixon explains Australia’s attitude to champagne like this “There isn’t really a rivalry between champagne and sparkling wine in Australia – its about budget. Genuine Champagne means the pinnacle of quality sparkling wine to Australians, but its also a term broadly used for sparkling wine, from the Champagne region or otherwise. Consumption of sparkling wine amongst females between 18 – 30 is overepresented, but most Australians who can afford champagne still perceive this as the best. Historically champagne would be the first choice if you have over AUS$50 to spend, local sparkling if not.”
by Jayne Powell (aka Champagne Jayne)
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