'Not In Our Lifetime': What Australian Sparkling Wine Producers Need To Do To Rival Champagne

We need a few feuds, a bit more royalty, and a few hundred years...

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates his 2nd place on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany, by chucking a 'shoey.' Image Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Champagne has an illustrious reputation. It’s known as being the wine of royalty. The thing you pop to celebrate a milestone. The pinnacle of everything decent and debaucherous.

Oh and, as Kyla Kirkpatrick – founder & CEO of Emperor Champagne and The Champagne Dame – recently told DMARGE, that’s just the start.

Answering the question “Will consumers ever see sparkling wine from other regions of the world as on par with champagne in terms of ‘classiness’?” Kyla told DMARGE: “Not in our lifetime!”

There are, nonetheless, some reasons why Australian producers might start to catch up.

Before we get into that though, why is champagne (sparkling wine from France’s Champagne region) so special?

“Champagne has had the reputation of being the wine of kings,” Kyla told DMARGE. “The wine that is the pinnacle of all sparkling wines for hundreds of years.”

“It was their wine that was used to anoint power and was always associated with royalty, it was drunk by Marie Antionette, Pompadour and the Kings of France. It has an incredible legacy and it is very hard to catch up on that legacy of incredible history.”

circa 1910: Thousands of bottles of champagne maturing in one of the Roman Cellars at Reims, France where they are left to acquire their famed ‘bubbly’ qualities. Image Credit: Sasha/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Vis a vis the rest of the world, champagne also has unparalleled marketing. Kyla told DMARGE: “Champagne is a region market itself and no other region in the world is doing that. Australia doesn’t do it, Italy does it to a lesser extent but not many regions spend a lot of time, energy or passion marketing the product from a regional perspective, and that’s what gives them the edge.”

It’s not just hot air and history either. Kyla explained: “There are also quality standards in Champagne where every champagne producer must meet a minimum quality standard, which includes what grapes are used, where they come from, how long it’s been in the cellar, ageing to gain its complexity.”

“Those strict set of guidelines mean you get consistency across the region, whereas other regions don’t have that which can lead to bad sparkling wines that bring the whole region down.”

“Certain producers have done a reasonable job at marketing themselves,” Kyla added. “The problem is, there’s no consistency and quality is a big issue. It really frustrates me when I hear a vineyard say, ‘I’m going to knock out a sparkling wine next year.’ A truly great wine requires thought and time, and it should spend years in the cellar before it’s released.”

“Along with quality, marketing is also very important. In order to achieve a certain level of status and reputation the whole region needs to unite in their marketing efforts rather than just one or two independent winery’s.”

Now for the thorny question: will Australian sparkling wine (or sparkling wine from anywhere else in the world) ever catch up with the prestige of champagne?

“I don’t think so,” Kyla said. “There might be some consumers that fall in love with a particular region and there is nothing wrong with that, but there’s a lot of work to do for them to catch up with.”

Australian comedian and actor Paul Hogan, star of the film ‘Crocodile Dundee’, drinking champagne at the Inn on the Park (later the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane), London, January 1987. Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“Champagne has years of history, pedigree and experience, that makes it so poised in people’s minds, that it is a special wine. Even though we drink it more readily, and not just on those special occasions, when you drink a bottle of champagne, there is a magic to it.”

“There’s history in the bottle, there’s 300 years of history in most bottles, whereas most other regions would be lucky to have 20 or 30 years of history and pedigree in each bottle.”

Kyla also related that “the quality of champagne is superior in terms of how it is made and the time it is left in the cellar.”

“No other region ages their sparkling wines as long as the Champagne region.”

“Secondly, it is the history of the families, they have often lived for hundreds of years in the Champagne region passing knowledge from father to son and other members in the family.”

“Finally, you have the historical power of the region, and the link between Champagne and key historical events such as war, with kings and queens, religion and nobility. There are such famous characters and figures from Champagne which makes it very hard to topple the connection, the feeling of magic and the joy that champagne brings.”

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Kyla also shared with DMARGE that the way people consume champagne is evolving – something which could – perhaps – open the doors to competitors looking to burrow out a niche.

“People are drinking champagne more often. It used to be an occasion led drink, you would drink champagne at engagements, birthdays with zeroes and special occasions but now consumers are drinking champagne more readily. We’ve seen massive growth in the Australian and American market place, there are champagne shortages as people who turn to champagne fall in love with it.”

“The second major movement is the movement away from big brands towards smaller artisanal producers, someone who’s put their pride and passion and energy into every bottle. Over the last decade champagne has democratised a bit and it is now being enjoyed in bars by people in their 20s, it’s a bit more edgy, it’s a bit more cool and champagne has changed its perception in the market.”

We’ll drink to that.

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