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Through the virtual looking glass with Nicolas Feuillatte

Published:  17 July, 2017

Popping on a pair of virtual reality eye-goggles isn’t what I’m used to doing before a vertical tasting.

But that’s exactly what happened before I sampled Nicolas Feuillatte’s new 2008 vintage tasting on Friday in London’s Soho.

Along with putting on goggles, being directed to a booth and being greeted by one of the brand’s reps was part of the prep for this unconventional process.

Four virtual scenarios followed, one after the other, each artistically rendered and each pertaining to one of the four Champagne’s in the flight.

After working out how to physically sip the wine - goggles and champagne flutes aren’t necessarily the best fit - the experience was not the vineyard tour I had been expecting.

Each wine was paired with a particular scenario: an ice palace for the Blanc de Blancs, and a trip into space for their Palmes d’or which carries the brand’s highest price tag.

The idea is to play to the senses: to sight and sound as well as taste.

It’s all part of the “experience” - something we hear a lot about when talking about Champagne, which as a premium category is increasingly being undermined by low cost alternatives.

To prove to consumers why they should fork out for a £26.99 Brut Reserve rather than a £6.99 Prosecco has been marketing and communications manager Olivier Legrand’s objective since he joined the company in 2015.

“We’re trying to show that Champagne is all about emotional luxury. It’s tied to the luxury of having new experiences, which is why we wanted to use virtual reality technology. It’s a new way to tap into consumers’ emotion and to maximise the moments for the consumption of Champagne.”

This targeting of emotional moments is all part of a strategy to remove the “distance” away from Champagne and the consumer – from it’s long held status as a special occasion drink to something which is more accessible.

Still maintaining its luxury credentials while enlarging its customer base is of course one of the main challenges facing the Champenois in 2017.

But Nicolas Feuillatte seems well placed to meeting consumers somewhere in the middle.

Legrand believes this is because of the company’s ability to be more flexible than its rivals.

“We were founded in 1976 so we’re the youngest of the grand marques, which means we can be a bolder than some of our competitors,” he said.

“We don’t have the years of tradition to upset if we want to do something new or to adapt to trends. That’s why we’re able to focus on Champagne as an experience. Our latest marketing campaign doesn’t feature a Champagne bottle. We hint at it, but we want to focus on the experience.”

The direction seems to be paying off for the brand, which is currently third in UK off-trade, and the number one Champagne overall in France.

Nicolas Feuillatte of course isn’t the first producer to dabble in virtual technology.

Plenty of companies are now turning to this growing medium as a branding tool and Nicolas Feuillatte is no exception.

Friday’s preview will soon be going on the road to various marketing and consumer events over the next few months.

A PR stunt in the truest sense of the word.

But as wine tends to be on the slow end when it comes to picking up technology trends, it’s interesting to see how the trade is embracing virtual tech – especially since it’s clearly only going to become more prevalent in our lives.

It’s also interesting to note how fast this particular kind of technology can react – helpful for new vintages and the changing nature of our industry.

Legrand explained: “The virtual reality scenarios that we created are painted with a digital paintbrush, so the artist actually creates the scenarios in the same way that the user sees it – through the goggles. It’s quite amazing to watch.”