The sparkling Method Cap Classique (MCC), inspired by champagne, is increasingly accompanying parties, 30 years after the creation of its name.
This is not champagne. Sure, it has Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a long fermentation in the bottle, but the “Champagne” designation has been protected since 1992. South African winegrowers in the Western Cape province have been forced to reinvent themselves. Gone are the terms "méthode champenoise", replaced by the Méthode Cap Classique (MCC), a name more faithful to a terroir and climate very different from those of Champagne. And thirty years later, the MCC has made a name for itself among consumers.
More than 10 million bottles were sold in 2021, according to the Cap Classique producers association. The main production area is Stellenbosch, a wine-growing region surrounded by mountains in the northern Cape. This is followed by the regions of Paarl and Cape South Coast, where Melissa Nelsen is based. In 2022, this winemaker doubled her production of MCC “Geneviève”, blanc de blancs, to 24,000 bottles annually.
Not only does production and demand increase, "also quality, with more variety," defends Melissa Nelsen. "Compared to three different sparkling wines before, now you have 24 of good quality," says the winemaker. With a better reputation, MCC can move upmarket and in price. Melissa Nelsen sells her blanc de blancs for €15 a bottle (R265), compared to €6 or €8 for a mid-range MCC. Some MCCs have prices similar to champagnes, such as Babylonstoren's Sprankel, which sells for 35 euros.
People are beginning to educate their palate
This local consumption brings joy to the wine industry. "People are starting to educate their palates and drink more Cap Classique, although the prestige of Champagne will never go away," says Trey Mkhize, a consultant at the distribution company Vinimark. The Krone brand he carries dominates sales in South Africa with its Night Nectar range. "Nectar" refers to a sweeter, semi-dry wine.
It's a new way of drinking.
«South Africa is a big consumer of Nectar-type wines. It is a new consumption, it is a fashion,” confirms Michael Fridjhon, professor of wine business at the University of Cape Town. More accessible, sweet wines dominate the market. "It is a product that is consumed during the day, as an aperitif, around the barbecue, during dessert, it replaces other alcohols," says Michael Fridjhon. It is not uncommon to see ice cubes with a bottle of bubbly at events, consumed as if it were beer.
But CCM is destined to become much more than a party drink. At the appellation's 30th anniversary party, different Cap Classiques were served on the table throughout the meal. Melissa Nelsen has wonderful memories of it. «When I started in 2008, bubbles were only served at parties. Having them throughout the meal shows how Cap Classique has evolved and can be enjoyed as an everyday drink,” he says.
After seducing South Africans, MCC producers can hope to conquer the world. Melissa Nelsen's “Genevieve” MCC is already exported to Hong Kong, Canada and Belgium. The United Kingdom is the first export market, ahead of the United States, with 61% growth in 2021.
The bubble drinking community is growing, there is room for everyone
Getting a place on supermarket shelves will be difficult compared to Spanish cava, French crémants and champagnes and Italian prosecco, which is already well distributed in South Africa. This competition does not worry Melissa Nelsen. “The community of bubble drinkers is growing, there is room for everyone,” he says. «The most important thing is to retain our customers.