“Are you going to Helsinki?” was apparently a popular question among the winemakers and cellar masters in Champagne in the last few weeks, leading up to Grand Champagne Helsinki, from 11 to 13 May. The event, now in its third year, has become popular with both wine professionals and Champagne enthusiasts alike. Visitors had the opportunity to taste a wide range of Champagne from most top producers and meet the people behind the labels face to face. There was also an impressive 42 masterclasses and tastings during the three-day event. But why Helsinki of all places?
“Well, because we live here,” says Essi Avellan MW, a Champagne specialist and one of the organisers behind the event. “We chose Helsinki specifically because we want to develop Champagne culture in Finland. We have been asked if we could organise the event in different places like Sweden, USA, England, Germany and even in Champagne. There has been a lot of interest. But at the moment we are focused in Helsinki and want to refine it to the best event possible”.
With the steady growth of sparkling wine sales in the Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko, it looks like Finns are going crazy for bubbles. “If you consider the current economic climate it is incredible how well Champagne is doing. But what is even more delightful is that the sales value is increasing as well as the volume. So, people are drinking better Champagne and it’s not just this luxury product any more but a wine like any other,” Avellan MW continues.
The event has become so popular in fact that even Alko reacted by listing an unprecedented special selection of 108 Champagnes; it’s unusual for an event to have any sort of visible impact on Alko’s selection.
The recent frosts in the Champagne region was a hot topic at the event. The cellar master of Moët & Chandon Benoît Gouez estimated an average of 25 percent loss of buds but predictions varied. “The damage has been very diverse according to the sub-areas inside Champagne. In our vineyard, which is well located and rather warm with good slopes, we have less than 10% of the buds that have been destroyed. But in some other regions of Champagne it’s up to 50% or 60%. We are pretty safe from that this year,” says Charles Philipponnat from Champagne Philipponnat. “There is not much you can do really about frost. The only effective way is to spray water. Because as long as the water is freezing it’s keeping the temperature at zero, or just above zero, and that is enough to protect the vines. But you need big equipment and large quantities of water in order to that. The other means that people have been using like burning scroll or lighting candles are not very effective, and they are not effective at all on slopes. They are effective only on more or less flat land and in the hollows. It’s also a heavy pollution so I don’t like it very much. But if it can help save a few buds in the most dangerous places it’s understandable.”
However the consensus amongst the winemakers were that even though there was some heavy damage in certain areas of Champagne the region and its predominant wine style, non-vintage Champagne, is built to cope with potential damages caused by the frost.
Frost wasn't the only topic of conversation. The unstoppable rise of Champagne in Finland was frequently remarked on, with Alko building their selection to cover over 400 different Champagnes at the moment. It is safe to say that when it comes to this particular bubbly, Finns are spoilt for choice.