Champagne is a massively important brand name. It represents (or so we are led to believe) all that is best in sparkling wines. Its provenance is fiercely guarded by the French AOC system. As well as the region of production, the winemaking techniques are strictly controlled. Similarly, the legally permitted grapes varieties are restricted to seven (four of which are vanishingly rare). And a mythical past, starting with Dom Perignon as the “inventor” of sparkling wines fortifies the story. The power of the Champagne wine trade is equally mythical. The Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War included restrictions on the use of the name Champagne.
A host of lawyers will descend upon anyone daring to try to use the name (apart from a few Californians hiding behind grandfathering rules). And woe betide any upstart winemaker making sparkling wine with the same techniques and technology as those in Champagne – only references to vague “traditional methods” terms go unchallenged.
Champagne has, for more than a century, been promoted as an exclusive quality product. The exclusivity and protection of the brand name and image goes far beyond all the heavily advertised big name producers. Huge companies like Krug, Veuve Cliquot, Tattinger and Bollinger have a symbiotic relationship with the Champagne name. In promoting their own particular trade names, they promote the concept of exclusive (and expensive) Champagne.
But there are cracks in the façade of solidarity. In attempting to protect the quality image of champagne, champagne is increasingly achieving less than sparkling results in blind tastings against upcoming regions like England. These may be publicly discounted by the big names, but it has not stopped several of them increasingly investing in these new competitors, buying land and planting new vines outside Champagne.
The mystique of the Champagne name goes far beyond sparkling wines. Just look up the internet terms such as “the champagne of” and you will find references to beer, tea, chocolate truffles and cosmetics – even “the champagne of kombucha”. Even the color called champagne evokes a certain luxury (apart from, perhaps, bathroom ceramics).
But why does this matter to the newly created Dahlonega Plateau AVA (a member of which is Cavender Creek)? There is an increasing amount of sparkling wine being produced here, but that is only a small part of local wine production. The answer is what can be achieved in the medium term by creating a reputation for interesting wines of great quality linked to a specific region. Interesting quality wines backed by a good customer image can potentially offer higher prices and boost financial returns to winemakers. And the Dahlonega Plateau name could boost a host of other tourist and hospitality businesses. But it does require all the winemakers involved cooperating to make this happen.