Food & Drinks

Kenyans Quench New Thirst for Champagne


Luxury meeting that was held at Villa Rosa Kempinski on Tuesday. PHOTO | COURTESY

The unmistakeable pop followed by a cloudy escape of bubbles from the bottle marks a celebration with champagne.

Opening the bottle, which usually looks like rocket science, will have an audience captivated, usually in fear of the flying cork, or maybe just in anticipation for the cold glass of chilled bubbly.

Take off the foil, unscrew the mesh cage, hold the base of the bottle firmly in one hand, and the cork in the other and twist the bottle not the cork. After the pop, serve and drink.

This has become a norm in Kenyan parties as the appreciation for champagne and fine wine grows in the country. And it is the new generation of younger Kenyans who are growing up with fine taste that are fuelling the demand.

In France, consumption of champagne grew merely by three per cent but in Kenya, Moët & Chandon brand development manager Pierre-Louis Araud states.

“But in Kenya, the champagne market has been experiencing double digit growth,” he said.

Consumption trends are equalising across the world. Tastes have become very universal. For example, at a Kenyan wedding, champagne must be popped.

Damien Souchet, the brand manager of Martell, Mumm and Perrier-Jouet (MMPJ) in East Africa said and as Kenyans’ thirst grows, they are actually following the champagne rules.

“Kenyans follow the rules as champagne is still very associated to a celebratory drink (weddings, birthdays). However, the consumption growth definitely comes from the clubbing industry with big names such as B-Club… which are showcasing champagnes as symbol of luxury and playing with the codes,” he said.

Africa’s alcoholic beverages market is thriving and the region has become a focal point for global distributors of fine wines. According to the latest Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, wine is second luxury possession that the rich are buying after art.

Bottles in Kenya

Bottles exported to Kenya have also increased over the years. In 2015, the French brought in champagne worth Sh160 million.

A year later, the Champagne Committee reported a slight decline in the volume in bottles which were valued at about Sh130 million.

Media influence and technology have been cited as the drivers of growth in the affluent taste of Kenyans that was previously dormant. Access to information through social media and mainstream media has given Kenyans front row seats to global trends.

“Look at Wakanda (Black Panther), it launched in Kisumu and Nairobi at the same time as the rest of the world. Previously, we would have to wait up to two years to see a movie after its launch,” said Aggrey Oriwo, managing director, Ipsos East Africa.

The influx of high-earning individuals with more disposable income, stock market millionaires, nouveau rich, tenderpreneuers as well as the new generation of wealthy heirs and heiresses, has created a need for luxury items in cities such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.


Ugo Messi the Martell, Mumm, Perrier-Jouet brand ambassador. PHOTO | COURTESY

Mr Oriwo said there is a new generation that understands luxury. The older wealthy Kenyans are frugal and content with smoking a cigarette and taking one type of alcoholic beverage.

“The new generation is spending on luxury items. They understand the luxury whisky brands and they buy them in high-end hotels. They are not saving to buy plots in Nanyuki. They are not as conservative as the generations before,” he said. This younger generation is growing up appreciating fine things in life. They understand what airlines will give them comfort, where to buy a Rolex and what gadgets to purchase.

He adds that two decades ago, consumption habits of Kenyans were very predictable. When an individual changed their address, their drinking habits rarely did.

“The beer they ordered at their local bar would still be what they would order when they started drinking at Fairmont, The Norfolk, for instance,” said the Ipsos East Africa managing director.

It’s not price

Alex Helaine, the Moët Hennessy East Africa managing director said an item is not necessarily luxurious because of its price.

‘‘It is about experience,’’ he said.

Champagne, for instance, is a very particular sparkling wine that allows use of three very specific grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

“Usually the question is “What is the difference between sparkling wine and champagne? The easy and short answer is that sparkling wine can only be called champagne if it comes from the region of Champagne, France, which is just outside of Paris. All champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne,” said Mr Souchet.

In 2017, annual reports by the Champagne Committee indicated that 91 per cent of sparkling wine from France was champagne.

“Champagne is the name of a place in northern France. It’s a range of low chalk hills which rise gently up from a dreary agricultural plain east of Paris. The hills drain the chalk and lift the vines towards the sun, allowing them to achieve the barest minimum of ripeness. Turn those grapes into wine, and their nervy, high-acid profile is perfect base material with which to make great sparkling wine,” explains Mr Souchet.

African drinkers

Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV’s chief mistress famously said that champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it.

Over 250 years later, champagne is still the go-to luxury celebration drink.

In Africa, West Africans consume more champagne. Shaking the bottle and dousing all in attendance as well as the floor is almost a ritual.

Kenyans are more traditional, preferring to consume most of their champagne, however the palate leans towards sweeter variations of the sparkling wine.

“Imperial Nectar is our most popular in this market,” said Mr Araud.

For the wealthy, fine wine is good for parties and for investment.

The Ipsos Affluent Africa 2016 survey showed that 22 per cent of the respondents spent money on a bottle of quality wine within that year. This is a bottle that costs Sh4,843 ($48) or more. This only came in second to a bottle of fragrance.

Demand for top wines such as Burgundies is stronger than ever, driven by the scant quantities produced in recent vintages, but blue-chip wines from Bordeaux, Italy and California do not linger in bespoke cellars for long.

“Kenyans are even taking wine tours to South of France and Spain,” Mr Oriwo said.

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