In ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’ Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Diamonds are a girls best friend’ in a pink satin dress surrounded by dapper men in black tuxedos. I’m a brunette and Champagne is my best friend?
Champagne and diamonds are two luxury products whose value is questioned because of their actual lack of rarity. It was the marketing genius of DeBeers that led to the perceived scarcity of diamonds. It is the Comité de Champagne (CIVC) that controls the amount of Champagne allowed to be made each year. This amount is based on the world’s demand for Champagne. Just like DeBeers, the CIVC makes sure that the growers will not sell enough grapes to cause a reduction in price (and following that, the perceived value) of Champagne.
Indeed, most Champagne houses produce bottles in the millions each year. In fact, Dom Perignon, does not even admit what their production is. Moët makes upwards of 30 million bottles: Veuve Clicquot sits at 13.5 million. Clearly, just as with diamonds, there is no possibility of the world running out of Champagne. This is Champagne’s dirty little secret.
How does Champagne market itself as a luxury product? First, by aligning itself with the upper classes. Roederer’s Cristal was made at the request of Tsar Alexander II. Champagne was a favourite of Napoleon Bonaparte. Sir Winston Churchill drank so much Pol Roger that they dedicated their top wine to him. Then in the 19th century, Champagne crossed the transatlantic and enraptured wealthy Americans via Champagne Charlie (Charles Heidsieck) and Lily Bollinger. In 1973, Bollinger partnered with the world’s greatest spy, James Bond and is featured in 13 Bond films.
Rap stars have also promoted the frothy fun. Tupac’s song serenades the recipe of ‘Thug Passion’ – one part Alizé Passion Fruit Liqueur and one part Cristal. Cristal is the cuvée prestige, the flagship or the top wine of the Louis Roederer house that sells for $300/ bottle.
Originally, Jay-Z also promoted Cristal. That is until the Economist interviewed the managing director of Roederer. When asked if the attention from rap artists was detrimental to the Cristal image, he responded, “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” It seems that rap culture may not quite bestow the polished image that all the Champagne houses are looking for.
In the follow up, Jay-Z took the comments as racist and promptly pulled all Cristal from his nightclubs. Then, business-savvy Jay wisely bought the Armand de Brignac Champagne house before featuring the gold-laden ‘Ace of Spades’ bottle in his next music video, “Show Me What You Got”. Watch how he turns away the bottle of Cristal and then see how the girl’s eyes light up when they present the bottle of Armand de Brignac. Burn! Then quick move to positive product placement.
And since my sister celebrates her birthday this weekend, I just have to bring some Champers to celebrate the milestone. We’re staying at the luxurious Sparkling Hill Resort in Vernon, British Columbia built by the owner of Swarovski crystal jewelry. The place is adorned with crystal chandeliers, snowflake crystal lights, crystal fireplaces, and more crystal throughout the steam rooms of the spa. Marilyn, you can take your child labour, environmental abuse blood-diamonds, I’ve got ethically made Austrian crystal to pair with my Champagne! (In fact, Marilyn Monroe was garbed in Swarovski crystal for the movie, not in diamonds.)
And if 20th Century Fox didn’t put out the extra dough for Marilyn to wear real diamonds, is it worth it for us to spend the extra cash on the coveted name of Champagne?
The answer: it depends.
More on Champagne and other sparkling wines in the next post.