Millennials and Organic Champagne: a match made in heaven?
Last week, at around 5:30 pm (just before the current curfew time), my 33-year-old friend Ben, he with the gourmet tastebuds, popped round to celebrate the start of a much-needed weekend. "Your wine’s absolutely gorgeous!" he said to me. Delighted at this new role of matchmaker, I hastened to introduce him to the little beauty in question, an organic champagne. "I’ve never had it before" he says, whipping out his phone to take a snap of the bottle. I was somewhat struck by his remark, so I decided to take a closer look at the subject.
How long has organic growing been around?
In Champagne, serious interest in this method of production emerged at about the same time as the boy bands, although a few pioneering winegrowers had already started the ball rolling as early as the 1970s. These include the illustrious Jacques Beaufort in Ambonnay or even He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named: the agrobiologist Yves Ruffin in Avenay Val d'Or. Some 30 years later, although the Champagne region has been gradually converting to sustainable growing, it must be said that only 260 out of 16,000 have gone down the organic path.
The situation is similar as far as the Champagne Houses are concerned. Only a few pioneers have quietly begun to convert some of their vineyards to organic growing. This is the case of Roederer, half of whose vineyards should be officially certified within the next few months.
However, the pace has been accelerating since 2015. Thanks to market demand, as well as global warming and lower yields per hectare, organic growing has become a tangible reality among the most pragmatic in just a few years.
Who’s drinking organic champagne?
Kylie Minogue can tell you better than I can… between 35-44-year-olds and organic bubbly, it's virtually a case of "love at first sight", a winning match. This is also confirmed by the very reliable Plus de Bulles e-commerce site which reveals that organic products are also popular with Millennials. Will the not-so-easy-to-please, 25-34-year-old consumers end up forsaking beers and spirits and succumb to the tremendous charm of this niche wine? There are 3 good reasons to think that they might…
#1 On the same wavelength
If you want to live together happily ever after, it’s best to have some things in common with you beloved. Tinder and its algorithm would no doubt agree. And that's a good thing, because, between Millennials and organic champagne, it's a case of “birds of a feather flocking together".
Just as demanding as the Millennials are the organic wine producers to whom I've spoken who share the same mindset: "you are what you produce". Beyond the growing practices, which are at great pains to respect the intelligence of life, these producers are above all "love and act winemakers": engaging and environmentally-engaged craftsmen who seek distinction through discretion.
We don’t talk about it as much as we should, but producing organic wines means having to forego the comfort of “chemical viticulture” and the pursuit of volume, and having to disregard criticism and scepticism, even if people are now starting to wake up to environmental issues. Organic growing is the courage to face uncertainty.
I believe that this willingness to accept risk speaks profoundly to Millennials, a generation who questions and challenges existing models and prefers to buy brands with strong values which believe in hard work and show resilience.
#2 Less But Better
Everyone knows that the “Game Changers” prefer to consume less but better. This “slow vision” is completely aligned with that of the players in the organic champagne sector: "quality over quantity". When I asked 31-year-old Caroline from Toulouse what she thinks of champagne, her answer was rather blunt: "It's a craft product that’s mass produced. By choosing to buy an organic champagne, because of its rarity and the great craftsmanship involved, I really have the impression that I’m choosing an original organic product and not a mass-produced one".
This trend is also confirmed by Jean-Baptiste Castelain, the manager at La Nouvelle Cave, a wine shop which opened in a bustling district of Paris in December 2019. Here they list 40 champagnes, 4 of which are organic.
"In this segment, my clientele, mainly made up of Millennials, goes for the small wine producers. I must admit that their wines have charisma, incredible charm in terms of taste and a real story to tell". Nevertheless, the young wine merchant notes, these wine enthusiasts often feel lost faced with such a varied offer and complex terminology.
"In my store, my customers regularly ask me if "Champagne Brut Nature" and "vin nature" mean the same thing. So, imagine what it’s like for organic! Eco-friendly certifications, such as HVE or VDC, are certainly proof of a commitment to the environment or sustainability, but unfortunately, they are often confused with organic certifications, which show a much greater commitment. In my opinion, the message would benefit from being re-written in simple, fluid and more attractive terms that speak to 25-34-year-olds".
#3 They just want to have fun
For any love story to last, you have to be able to really understand your partner and all his/her interesting little habits. The Millennial is a social animal, driven by a deep need to experiment and to share his/her favourites.
Unlike the older generations, the Millennial does not seek to celebrate but to explore and discover. (S)he has a thirst for new things. Exit the functional beverage of yesteryear, enter experiential wine whose mission is not to add sparkle to every occasion but to each occasion. And with 2 glasses, even better. It may offend the puritans, but if the doughnut being devoured is made to the same demanding standards as the organic champagne that accompanies it, then yes, an ordinary Wednesday hanging out with friends can no doubt become a "special day".
By adopting their codes, capitalising on human relations and bringing them "phygital experiences" that cleverly combine physical locations and digital technologies, Champagne's organic players have an unprecedented opportunity: to turn their niche wine into a staple.
Sneakers on their feet, smartphone in their pocket and a glass of organic champagne in their hand, that’s what I dream of seeing in the future (oh, and that Ben finds his perfect match too!).
Who are the Millennials?
• Born between 1980 and 1995/2000
• 16 million inhabitants and therefore potential consumers in France
• 50% of the working population in France according to INSEE
• Optimistic yet realistic
• Connected with a "slow vision"
• “Slashers” in search of stability
• Meeting their needs while being attentive to the footprint they leave on the world.
Article written as part of an educational project of the Wine Journalism University Diploma of the Georges Chappaz Institute - University of Reims