Cap Classique gets classic

 Written by  Sarah Cangley

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The French have been embellishing their champagne bottles and boxes for centuries, and each house has its signature look which is part of the “DNA” of that brand. Their wines, too, focus on the appearance of the bottle; the great Bordeaux have used renowned artists to design their labels for many years.

I have always loved collecting champagne bottle, boxes and various components which make up the champagne experience. It is both sentimental and decorative.

To me this celebrates the experience of drinking that particular bottle, but I also love the beauty of the design and packaging.

The more I collect, the more I learn and the more pleasurable the whole experience is.

Turns out this passion for design is not just confined to the French market.

This trend has reached South Africa and the outer appearance of Methode Cap Classiques is reflecting the improvement in South African bubbly quality.

At the recent Joburg Bubbly Festival I was struck by how design-conscious Cap Classique brands have become, whereas South African wine, on the whole, still tends towards very conservative labels and bottles.

I also found out that the festival was just the tip of the iceberg, as many wine estates are now including a Cap Classique in their range.

One of the MCCs at the event was Genevieve, with its distinctive, feminine cameo design and blue bottle (which I was told was inspired by a Tiffany box!). The owner, Melissa Nelsen, told me that her choice of the cameo was because the history of champagne has always included women.

“Our idea was to represent women all over the world and the love of bubbly they enjoy together,” she told me.

Melissa used black, gold and turqoise in her packaging to make a bold statement.

“Although this is rather a feminine product I wanted a man to have no awkwardness about carrying it. So the bold statement I thought would work well.”

She called it Genevieve because her parents spent a brief time in France and had an extraordinary love for the radiance and energy of France.

They gave her her middle name Genevieve, who is the patron saint of Paris.

Melissa’s designer was Adam Shear, owner of Deep Design and a personal friend of hers, who, she says, “took on the project with as much passion for it as I have.”

Steenberg also had a wonderfully funky striped box for its Cap Classique wines, designed by Jan van Tonder.

Jan had been busy and had also designed the bottles and boxes for Silverthorn Wines, which has a rosé, Genie and a Blanc de Blanc, The Green Man, in its stable.

I was referred to other major players in the MCC industry by Shaun Anderson of Javelin, who has organised some wonderful Cap Classique festivals in Joburg.

One of them was Melanie van der Merwe from the aptly named Tanzanite who is in the throes of redesigning her product for the next vintage in 2012. She is thinking of embossing some of her bottles and bringing out different coloured capsules (that’s the foil on the top). 

“We are thinking about using an onion-skin colour on the capsule, as this is a very elegant wine, and black is too harsh,” she says.

She did change the neck label on the previous batch to a black and tanzanite-colour, but that is used only for vintage and special cuvées in a special box.

“You need to take more time, as this is a sophisticated product and it all depends on the bottle. These wines are so expensive to buy, so producers tend to make a classic ‘608’ bottle, which is the classic champagne shape.”

She wants to make her labels narrow at the bottom and wide at the top, which is a departure from the normal square or rectangular champagne label shape.

“You can’t change the packaging totally,” she says, “as this is part of a known brand. It is expensive to do so, as it depends on what the bottle sells for. If it is around R70-R80, or made in very small quantities, it is not profitable. Only if the wines are sold at a rate of between 10 000 to 20 000 bottles annually, and unfortunately most MCC producers are small.”

Eddie Haumann of Haumann Small Designs is designing for a lot of wineries. He has designed most of Mary and Nicky’s Krone’s sparkling wines (including the prestige Nicolas Krone), and has done all the Graham Beck MCCs, as well as work for Laibach’s organic Ladybird wines. “A lot of wineries like Cedarberg and Saronsberg are bringing out bubblies,” he tells me. “It’s such a growing market so traditional houses are doing MCCs.”

A small bubbly estate in Franschhoek, GM & Ahrens, approached him to design their product, which was launched very recently into the market with a small amount of product.

To Eddie, bubblies need a classical look, as they have different values from wine and there is more romance and celebration.

If you consider French champagnes there is also different packaging for non-vintage, vintage and prestige cuvées, so Eddie used a high-end look for GM & Ahrens with limited colour.

“I am taking the classical endorsement and deconstructing it, then re-presenting it with a classical feel.”

Of course, rosés have to have special attention paid. The colouring of the label changes, tending more towards pink, and Eddie refers to the famous Billecart-Salmon rosés.

It is promising news for the MCC industry which is producing sophisticated, structured bubblies (such as the wonderful Morena from Franschhoek), and happily the packaging is beginning to complement and hint at the complexity and elegance inside the bottle.

Time to start collecting South African bubblies!

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