At a gala dinner held last week in the candlelit cellars of Champagne Mumm in Reims, Richard Bampfield MW was crowned the 2009 European Champagne Ambassador.
I was a judge for both the UK and European finals of the competition, run by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), and I was lucky enough to be there on the night to see Richard win his award. It was certainly a proud moment for the UK representatives in the room.
The title ‘ambassador’ however suggests the winning candidate will have a role to play throughout the year and I have to confess that I still haven’t managed to work out what that role is. In fact when I posed the question in a briefing session prior to the UK final it became clear that at present it doesn’t really exist in any meaningful sense. This is surely something which ought to be addressed. Otherwise the CIVC are wasting a great resource – an excellent communicator with a passion for champagne – if the winning candidate isn’t given a brief and the support to carry it out.
There was certainly no doubting the quality of the finalists and the overall standard was extremely high in both the national and international legs of the competition. It is also a tough competition with each of the eight European candidates (representing Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland) required to give two 15 minute presentations on this year’s theme, Rosé Champagne. During the morning session candidates were offered a choice of three rosé-focused topics and were given 30 minutes to prepare and deliver a presentation on the topic of their choosing. Post (large!) lunch they were each required to conduct a tutored tasting of three rosé champagnes with no preparation and no advance warning of the pre-selected wines.
What mattered above all in this competition was not superior knowledge about champagne, it was the ability to communicate clearly and engagingly with an audience and this is where Richard really shone. He brought grapes from his own garden for us to peel and taste, and carefully followed the brief of treating us as a group with no prior knowledge of champagne. Some of the other candidates clearly had amazing levels of knowledge but just didn’t communicate it as well as they could have.
The finalists had all been treated to a week of visits and tastings prior to the final, and they seemed to have had a great time, but still I can’t help feeling it’s a shame that once the competition is over little is required of the winning candidate. Perhaps this year that will change and Richard will have a diary packed with exciting events as a result. I’d certainly like to think so after such a lot of hard work.