Virtual reality and champagne

Champagne house Nicolas Feuillatte should be congratulated for finding new ways to introduce people to their wines. For publication in week starting 24 July 2017.

Global sales of champagne were down about 2 per cent last year compared with 2015. About 306 million bottles were sold last year against 312 million in 2015.

The biggest fall was in the United Kingdom – almost 9 per cent – with the decline almost entirely attributed to Brexit, industry sources said. The United Kingdom remains Champagne’s number one export market by volume with about 31.2 million bottles sold in 2016.

Meanwhile, sales in the United States, Asia and some northern and southern European nations continued to grow. These helped offset the declines in the United Kingdom and France.

Decanter magazine reported that sales in France have been declining steadily since 2010, but the fall was especially noticeable last year because of the country’s continuing economic crisis and a drop in tourism linked to terrorist attacks in 2015 and last year.

Thus it is understandable that champagne houses are looking at new ways to market their wines. Earlier this month Nicolas Feuillatte offered the world’s first multi-sensory champagne tasting in London via virtual reality. Nicolas Feuillatte is the third best-selling champagne brand in the United Kingdom.

Participants experienced the sensation of walking inside a series of bottles of champagne. It was this columnist’s first experience of wine virtual reality, and it was not an entirely pleasant experience.

The main problem with virtual reality is the clunky size and nature of the headset. If one wears spectacles, the headset must fit over the spectacles. The fit must be perfect; otherwise light seeps in. This produces a sensation of one’s glasses being squashed against one’s head.

The other problem is the body’s reaction to any strange and new experience – it begins to sweat, especially when one of the virtual reality experiences is standing on a diving board looking down into a dark abyss. This caused my spectacles to fog even more, limiting my vision. The heavy cable connecting the headset to the laptop housing the virtual reality software got caught between my legs as I staggered around the virtual reality environment.

The discomfort and difficulty in seeing through a foggy eyepiece caused frustration and tended to negate any pleasant sensations coming from the wine. Indeed, the headpiece pinched my nose making it impossible to detect the subtle aromas of the range of four champagnes.

The public relations note advertising the event spoke of users being led “into an enchanting world in virtual reality … inspired by the beauty and mystery of the different Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte brands” and promised a “delight to the senses as it brings together virtual reality and Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte’s best-selling wines”. Frankly, it was not so much delight as endurance. Thank goodness for the champagne bar that was available after the VR trip where a range of Feuillatte’s champagnes were available. That was the much more pleasant experience.

During the virtual reality episode people tasted Nicolas Feuillatte non-vintage Brut Réserve, non-vintage Brut Rosé, the 2008 Blanc de Blancs, and the 2006 Palmes d’Or. The last is a 50:50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and is a beautiful wine, despite the distractions of an uncomfortable virtual reality headset.

Also available to taste were the 2008 Brut Millesime, its cepage the traditional blend of Pinot Noir Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, and the 2006 Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs (as we know, this style is only Chardonnay). Both are good wines, though both struggled when compared with the formidable 2006 Palmes d’Or. This was simply a reflection of the quality of the Palmes d’Or.

Afterwards in the champagne bar all these champagnes tasted so much better. A second and third tasting confirmed the excellence of the 2006 Palmes d’Or. Olivier Legrand, communications manager for Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, also confirmed this was the first virtual reality tasting in the world. “We wanted to try something different.”

The central London building in which the tasting was held was entirely white, from the walls and ceilings to the flowers in the large number of vases around the building. All Nicolas Feuillatte staff wore black, a nice contrast, as they offered delicate nibbles.

Most of the people at the tasting were fashionably-dressed women aged in their twenties and thirties, presumably a cross section of the brand’s intended demographics. Somewhat eerily, they all dressed the same, and sat stroking their hair as they focused on the screens of their mobile phones. None seemed interested in talking about their virtual reality experience.

Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte was founded in 1976 in the heart of the Côte des Blancs and is the youngest of the large Champagne houses. It is also the biggest growers’ brand, with about 4,500 contributors. Grower champagnes are wines produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come. Some of the big houses buy grapes from other parts of the region.

Nicolas Feuillatte is the best-selling champagne brand in France and third overall in the world. They have access to more than 2,250 hectares of vines, among them 13 of the 17 Grand Cru and 33 of the 42 Premier Cru estates.

According to French law, brut champagne must spend a minimum of 15 months in the cellar, with at least three years for vintage champagne. Nicolas Feuillatte has extended the cellaring process to obtain extra finesse. Their brut champagnes spend three years in the cellar, and vintage champagnes age for at least four years. Olivier Legrand said the Palmes d’Or collection is sometimes aged for eight to 10 years. The last showed it is a beautiful wine despite the distraction of virtual reality.

Footnote: One of the highlights of Vinexpo this year was a vertical tasting of Vinedo Chadwick cabernet sauvignon from 1999, 2003, 2009 and 2015. The 2014 Vinedo Chadwick was the first Chilean wine to receive a perfect 100 points in international competition. Marketing director Loreto Queirolo has just announced that the 2015 Sena from the same stable has also been awarded 100 points in competition. At he same time the 2015 Vinedo Chadwick scored 99 points.

Words: 1,003

Categories: champagne, France, Not home, wine

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