Does responsibility have to be the opposite of sexiness and luxury? For Champagne, a beverage built on a foundation of unattainability, pleasure, and excess, the notions of restraint and conscientious consumption seem antithetical to its very essence.
Champagne, after all, is synonymous with both the House of Bourbon in the 17th century (King Louis XIV drank Champagne at every meal, and his mistress Madame de Pompadour served as muse for Moët & Chandon’s limited edition Rosé Capsule collection) and the kings of Hip Hop in the 21st (Jay-Z enshrined his devotion to Champagne not only in his “Go ahead and spill some Champagne in the water” lyrics but in the acquisition of a controlling interest in Ace of Spades, which sells Champagne for $300+ a pop in bottles encased in metal and hand-fitted with French pewter labels).
And yet. Few people — even the most devoted jet-setters — can’t ignore the ocean-choking, land-swamping pile of detritus left by our devotion to packaged pleasure. According to estimates, more than three billion trees per year are razed for paper packaging. But it isn’t just the cardboard that’s an issue — it’s what’s inside, preventing breakage. During the pandemic, our relationship with online shopping for everything — from gifts of Champagne to everyday groceries — got serious. In 2021, plastic packaging waste from Amazon alone produced 709 million pounds of desolation, an 18% increase year-over-year.
Those razed trees don’t just sit in landfills after being cast off. They contribute to deforestation, which represents an existential threat to the human race. Fewer trees make our air less breathable and contribute to climate change and the death of millions of animals annually. The plastic waste, which ends up in our waterways, kills more marine animals than any other ocean debris.
The reality, coupled with a change in the culture’s view on brand culpability — 75%, 71%, and 73% of Gen Z, Millennial, and Gen X consumers, respectively, are more likely to support a brand that’s sustainable. These stark stats are prompting some of the most storied Champagne brands to reconsider their packaging programs. In the process, they are radically transforming how people can gift their bottles of bubbles.
Alternative Champagne Gift Box Packaging
Remember the Jean Paul Gaultier red and gold corseted Champagne bottle for Piper-Heidsieck? Or perhaps the $720 Lanson Brut Champagne Noble CuvHe 1988, clothed in metal chainmail by Paco Rabanne? So 20th century.
These days, eco-conscious brands are cranking out lighter, low-carbon, low-impact gift boxes comprised of recycled paper, hemp, and eco-friendly inks. And they’re doing this without changing the feeling of indulgence or luxury when it’s time to pop the cork.
Veuve Clicquot’s new Ecoyellow gift box is 12% lighter than its previous gifting box, making for a lighter load. The packaging comprises 50% recycled paper and 50% hemp (locally sourced near the vineyards) for a lower carbon footprint overall. The brand’s packaging partner, Canopy’s Pack4Good initiative, is third-party certified and expends, on average, 95% to 130% less in carbon emissions. It also has an 88% to 100% lower land-use impact.
At Champagne Henriot, meanwhile, “packaging has been at the center of our discussion for a few years now,” says cellar master Alice Tétienne. “We decided to simplify our offering, so we have just one case we ship Champagne in and one gift box to choose from.”
Previously, Tétienne explains, every single SKU would have a different box. However, by editing the selection to one standard pink box, they limit the amount of eco-friendly ink used.
“We also only use recycled materials and have started working with a carefully chosen group of local suppliers to reduce our carbon footprint even more,” Tétienne says, adding that they also audit the partners and their carbon footprint, prioritizing ones with the best eco creds. “We use recycled glass in our bottles and found that the darker the material, the higher the rate of recycled glass we can use. Additionally, we have just introduced a new Champagne, the Henriot L’inattendue 2016, which is in a black bottle, and we are hoping that trend will continue.”
The beauty of the bottle and the materials used to design and house the bottle is part of the Champagne experience, Tétienne acknowledges.
“But I hope that together, we and the people who love our Champagne can take a long view,” she says. “We are transforming everything, from how we farm our vineyards to how we bottle our wines. But we also need the consumer to make better choices. Ultimately, we would love to eliminate boxes entirely.”
Ruinart has also transformed its gifting program, replacing the classic rectangular box with a 100% recyclable paper case sourced from sustainably managed European forests, molded to the Champagne bottle’s shape. At 40 grams, it is nine times lighter than Ruinart’s previous gift box, with a 60% lower carbon footprint.
In a bold move, Champagne Telmont is eliminating the gift box entirely.
“We have been very focused on converting our vineyards, and our partner growers’ vineyards, to organic farming,” says Telmont’s president, Ludovic du Plessis. “But we are always trying to push ourselves to go farther.”
After taking a hard look at the House’s overall carbon footprint and discovering that 85% of their carbon emissions came from scope 3 emissions, including 30% from packaging and the bottle, du Plessis says the decision — radical as it is — was clear. They began by reducing bottle weight from 900+ grams to 835 grams and increasing the rate of recycled glass. Then, they decided to nix the gift box altogether.
“By eliminating our gift box — doing that alone — we were able to reduce our carbon footprint for every bottle by 8%,” du Plessis says. “The average life of a gift box is less than one minute. Eco-gift box? For us, no.”
The powers that be were concerned, du Plessis admits.
“Everyone said, ‘clients aren’t ready for this,’” du Plessis says. “Wrong! In the U.S. and Japan, where they love gift boxes, (our) sales are booming. The new generations don’t just not need gift boxes, they don’t want them.”
Most young people are here for the less-is-more luxury concept, and they’re also the ones driving the luxury economy. By 2035, Generation Z is expected to account for 40% of the luxury goods market. Leonardo DiCaprio, yes, the legendary Oscar-winning party boy, is so impressed with Telmont’s eco-creds that he invested in the brand.
If DiCaprio can enjoy his bubbles sans gift box, surely we all can.
“He believes in the project and that Telmont represents the future of luxury,” du Plessis says. “What is better than good Champagne? A good Champagne that also does good for the planet.”