The man making a career out of champagne

We drink more champagne than ever before. Catherine Scott meets one man who has made it his business.

Connelly of the Champagne Tasting Room in Harrogate

Laurence Page Connelly is on a mission. Not only does he want us to drink more champagne he wants to drink different champagnes.

The former finance manager has just given up his successful job at Proctor and Gamble to open the first champagne tasting bar and shop outside of London in the centre of Harrogate.

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The idea behind the Champagne Concept is to introduce smaller wine growers to British champagne lovers in a typically French experience by combining champagne tasting, a champagne bar and retail outlet on one site.

Laurence Connelly of the Champagne Tasting Room in Harrogate

Laurence hopes to pass on his passion for champagne and in particular the smaller champagne houses to a public who at the moment are restricted to four major champagne brands.

He came upon the idea during a holiday in France with his wife Gemma.

“We were driving around the Épernay region, stopping in at small champagne houses where the grapes are grown, picked and turned into champagne by the owners,” explains Laurence who lives in Harrogate,

“We loved that we could see where the grapes had come from and could try them on site, before buying some to take away with us. This just isn’t something we are familiar with over here. I wanted to bring that experience over to the UK, particularly as it’s difficult to get many of these smaller labels here.

“Most of their champagne is sold within France because they just don’t produce the volumes that many retailers, such as the supermarket demand.

“We felt this was a great shame, and so did most of the growers who we have built up great relationships with. They are really desperate the get their champagne into the UK.”

The business has been five years in the fermenting as the couple waited for the right time and premises in which to launch their dream, Gemma still works for Proctor and Gamble.

And for Laurence it is clear that this is far from work.

He is full of interesting facts and figures about his beloved champagne and he just can’t wait to pass them on to the public.

“It is all about the experience,” he says. “People can come along have three flights of different champagnes for as little as £12 and learn so much about this fascinating product.”

People are drinking more champagne than ever before, says Laurence and it is no longer something that is kept for New Year’s Eve, weddings or Christenings.

“People are pairing champagne with food a lot more than they were which is fantastic,” says Laurence.

“Some people don’t want to drink an entire bottle of wine with their meal and some are looking for a lighter and healthier alternative. There are some great champagnes that go with a variety of different food.

“As with food people are more interested these days in where things come from. They are interested in quality and that’s what we aim to give them. People want to be involved more in buying their food and buying champagne should be the same.”

As we all as drinking more champagne our taste in the fizzy stuff has changed too.

“People are looking for drier varieties then they used to. There was a time when brut was about the driest champagne you could get but now there is extra brut and brut nature.”

At the moment the Champagne Concept works with seven champagne house owners, all of whom Laurence and Gemma have met.

The champagnes are made in small batches from the grapes grown on their vineyard, unlike the blended big name champagnes Brits are more familiar with.

“It’s about building up relationships in the long term and that’s how you get the quality. A lot of these producers have been trying to break into the UK for a long time. They have quality products which they can easily sell in France but they are excited about finding new markets.”

Laurence said there we a couple of shops in London doing a similar things, but the Champagne Concept is the first out of the Capital.

Gemma and Laurence have lived in Harrogate for five years and decided the town would be the ideal place for their first shop and tasting room.

“People in Harrogate are really interested in food and drink and we are really keen to support other local business. We are already working with our next door neighbour Norse restaurant,” says Laurence.

“The town also attracts tourists and so we thought it was the perfect place to open our business.”

Laurence expects the Champagne Concept to appeal to anyone who loves champagne.

“Whether it’s a group of friends having a pre-theatre or dinner drink, visitors to Harrogate looking for something to do on an afternoon, or champagne connoisseurs who want something a little different to share with dinner party guests, we can provide it. We think it is a really exciting addition to Harrogate’s food and drink scene, providing affordable luxury with a connection to the artisans who make the products,” he says.

Champagnes retail from £27 a bottle to £120. Vintage champagnes start at £39 a bottle.

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