Champagne Minimalism

Today a Champagne label is just as likely to sport a symbolic cross or QR-code, as a cavalier on horseback or a coat of arms. Circa 2016 Champagne labels are paring back to the essentials, as Belinda Aucott reports.

We live in a highly visual and commoditised world. A world in which brand is more often than not, expressed through imagery. Most regular consumers receive upward of 3000 brand messages a day and will willingly gorge on even more through social snacking.

As Australia’s Vin de Champagne Awards approach on 26 September; a biennial award recognising Champagne ambassadors around the country, we explore how Champagne labels have managed to evolve toward minimalism.

In the last eight years Björk, David Lynch, Jeff Koons and Karl Lagerfeld have all designed Champagne packaging. Suddenly, gone are the stuffy coats of arms and detailed filigree we once knew. House names have been left dangling in a sea of white at Louis Roederer, thanks to the Philipe Starck collaboration for the 2006 Brut Nature. Then, the limited edition Luminous from the Dom Perignon, was famously reduced to a day glow outline of the highly iconic logo.

In New York, Vice President for Dom Perignon, Trent Fraser says they have to keep moving. “From a brand perspective, we try to balance the right mix of edge and positioning. We are always true to our DNA and codes, but continue to push boundaries and take risks,” Fraser says. “A good example is how we utilise our communication platform, which is built around the Power of Creation. As Dom Pierre Perignon was the original creator of Champagne back in 1668, we celebrate that and bring it to life through collaborations such as those with Andy Warhol, David Lynch and Jeff Koons,” Fraser says. “The only time that we ever modify or ever touch our bottle, is in our Limited Edition creator pack which we launch for the holidays. It’s a gifting occasion as much as a collectible.”

In Reims, at the very seat of Champagne, Lauranne Bismuth Events and PR Manager for Maison de Champagne Krug, says they also try to simplify their brand for new consumers.

“We believe it is crucial for the House to evolve with its time. The label has to reflect this and be contemporary,” Bismuth says. “With the Krug label, the objective really is to focus on the main information, and to ease the understanding and the presentation of Champagne. No one drinks Champagne for any other reason than pleasure! So why should it be complicated?

“We believe you should never need to be an expert to understand Krug Champagnes.”

As Bismuth points out, modern marketing is a true effort to make Champagne more approachable. To make it more of an every day drink with meals.

This push and pull between both tradition and modernity, luxury and commercialism brings a surprising twist to labels. Each house takes its own position.

It also happens that designers are attracted to Champagne accessories and table wine. The New York-based designer Karim Rashid and the late architect Zaha Hadid have both been involved in creating wine products.

Zaha Hadid produced a limited run of 999 bottles, for the award winning Austrian vintner Leo Hillinger Wine. Hadid created the Icon Hill bottle which features subtle-yet-shapely curves. Icon Hill by Zaha Hadid has an indented centre with a curvy posterior on the bottom end.

Karim’s Rashid’s piece of polished, stainless steel also has a restrained sense of flamboyance. He created a Champagne Sabre for the luxury drinks market, with carefully rounded edges and a well-balanced weight for easy and safe use. Now, with just the right action, directed at the seam of the bottle on the upper neck, you can dislodge the cork and open the Champagne in one fell swoop. The paring back just continues.

Elisabeth Drysdale who is the director Champagne Bureau in Australia, says in Australia brand recognition is still key to sales.

“Australia remains an important and robust market for Champagne. Recently released figures place Australia as the sixth largest import market in the world. In 2015, Australia imported 8,110,106 bottles of Champagne, which represents a 24.3% increase on 2014,” Drysdale says.

She agrees with 2016 Vin de Champagne judge Peter Bourne that while tweaks and changes can be made to Champagne labels Australians still want to know what’s in the bottle.
According to Peter Bourne, The Wine Man, labels are hugely important.

“In Australia, brand recognition comes back to labels. Traditional labels are there for a reason and yes you can keep tweaking them – but the colour, the capsule and the label must be maintained so you can get that brand recognition from consumers in the retail environment,” Bourne says.

He explains that it was partially the mandatory inclusion of back labels on imported products that have freed up ‘real estate’ on the front label to become more minimal. But he cites the most successful labels (Clicquot’s yolk yellow and Bollinger’s red) as the very best examples. Those grand marques that, literally, stay true to their roots.

Words by Belinda Aucott.