Lanson + angels on stilts

(by peter)

Last week, we were guests of Champagne Lanson at a grand event in the Château de Versailles, Paris.

You can get a flavour of the event in the following video, which we filmed just before we made our entrance (announced by performers in character, complete with beauty spots, powdered faces and flamboyant wigs).

Apparently there were 1,400 guests present for this ritzy affair, where guests supped from magnums of Lanson’s new Extra Age, a blend of 40% Chardonnay with 60% Pinot Noir from Grands and Premiers Crus vineyards, blended from the 1999, 2002 and 2003 vintages. (£50.87 per bottle from

We chatted about the wine as we made our way from the stunning (but somewhat chilly) terrace over to the cavernous, high-arched orangerie.

Extra Age is an elegant fizz with pleasant hints of figgy maturity. But it’s a serious wine, which might do better with food than quaffed as an aperitif.

Inside the orangerie, we encountered angels on stilts (no, not the canapé variety), dancing ladies in giant bubbles, foaming consommé, and a thousand other people.

Very lavish – very champagne.

The celebrations were to mark Lanson’s 250th anniversary. I was lucky enough to have an interesting chat to Lanson’s UK head honcho, Paul Beavis (not in perfumed wig).

He quite frankly admitted that the company is concerned about the state of the UK market (you can read my recent blog on this subject here).

Champagne is particularly susceptible to the ruthless discounting culture of the UK supermarkets during the festive period, as the retailers hawk cheap fizz to lure trade away from competitors. But, while it shifts volume, it devalues the premium image of champagne and erodes margins.

As a result, Beavis has now taken over a re-launch programme in the US. Lanson has been in the market but in limited fashion – the plan is now to implement a new strategy, based largely around the west coast, Chicago and New York.

The company sees a gap in the market for champagnes that aren’t promoting themselves on the basis of ‘bling’ (the name Moët was mentioned, not sure by whom…). Instead, Lanson want to court sommeliers and emphasise the serious, fine-wine credentials of the products.

It’s a bold move by Lanson: the bottom of the US champagne market fell out after Iraq and the downturn, and there remain substantial barriers to success (not least of which is finding a good wholesaler). But the company, and Beavis, believe that the market will grow and there are great opportunities for those who invest now.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Apart from anything else, it’s a sign of how disillusioned fine wine suppliers are with the UK market, and that doesn’t bode well for wine drinkers in this country. Especially if the US market does take off and supplies need to be diverted to meet demand.

While Beavis maintains that the UK remains a key market for Lanson, if the sums don’t add up, there can only be one long-term conclusion.

Let’s hope Beavis and his ilk find ways to keep both markets in the pink.

Susie for one would be up in arms if the state of the UK champagne market were to take a turn for the worse.