I've always had a few misconceptions about Champagne. In my mind, it was the ultimate luxury commodity and every single Champagne was superlative. There was no such thing as bad Champagne; it was empirically the best one could drink (and has a correspondingly high price tag).
However, after the recent visit to Champagne, I came to see the wine differently. For starters, Instead of putting it on some type of vino pedestal, I realized that it's like all other wine; some is good, some is merely average. With a range of styles running the gamut from sweet to uber-dry, there are different benchmarks for quality. One producer's no-dosage (no added sugar) is delightfully acidic while another's could be a real tongue-scratcher.
I also had to adjust my mindset that the big houses are the enemies. In much else of the wine world, the big corporate giants are the bad guys, producing mass-market, mediocre slop. But in Champagne, it's tradition that large houses produce the majority of the wine. This is how the region has always functioned, and there is a rich history in it. With the recent movement to champion small grower-producers, it's easy to turn on the big houses and root for the underdogs, but that's not necessarily the case in the region. There should be an equal playing field for all.
I also came to realize that not all Champagne is expensive. True, it will never be super cheap, and I'd be very wary of any bottle under $30, but there are good deals to be found. Like any wine region, prices run the gamut and there's something of quality at nearly every price point.
Ultimately, it was the business side of Champagne, particularly the marketing, that surprised me the most. Champagne could almost be compared to a liquor brand rather than other wines in the ways that it tries to reach an audience and create a strong brand identity. One option is to imbue itself into popular culture. The idolization of Cristal in hip-hop and rap music over the past decade has created an identity for the brand within this audience and opened the doors for other champagnes in da club. Bollinger looked to the movies and capitalized on James Bond's affinity for their bubbly by creating special 007-themed packaging.
On the flip side, iIf you're not aligning yourself with something in popular society, then you need to at least portray yourself as a luxury brand. Ayala, a house that was struggling in recent years, has been working tirelessly to rebrand itself. A revamped tasting room, a focused and scaled-back portfolio, new labels; all are an attempt to market the wines in the global playing field. Lanson is another one that is working to reinvigorate itself. Once a strong presence in the US market, they've pulled back, retooled the brand, and are now restrategizing how to relaunch in major markets.
While some of the mystique has dissipated, I still love Champagne, maybe now even more. By digging deeper into this region, the wines are now multifaceted entities that I want to explore even further.