I’ve never viewed champagne as a controversial beverage, though many of its advocates throughout history have fiercely fought for its survival. When Winston Churchill was Prime Minister he reminded the troops “remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” Little did he know that all these years later, this champagne war would resurface… in Brixton of all places.
News of Brixton’s first champagne bar -Champagne + Fromage- opening in Brixton Village has been met with excitement from local fizz fanatics and extreme outrage by local protest group Yuppies Out, who first unleashed their wrath on Facebook, launching a disproportionately vicious ‘Champagne Holocaust street party’ campaign. They claim “a dark cloud is ominously looming above the once pure skys [sic] of Brixton, this cloud is called Champagne and Fromage.” Assuming they’re referring to the same pure skies under which severe economic and social hardship flourished, along with extensive crime, racism, drug use, high unemployment and eventually mass riots, I still struggle to conceive the impact some brie and bubbles might have on this, or any, landscape.
But the apparent threat of “drowning in a sea of estate agents, champagne swilling yummy mummies and the so called ‘fizz fiends’” has prompted an anti-Champagne and Fromage street party to coincide with the opening of the independent shop’s “cancerous venture” inside the “once glorious” Granville arcade. The rest of the rant becomes quite profane but essentially at said party, protesters will be standing around outside the shop gorging on “Dairylea cheese slices and white ace cider” because that’ll show those Epicureans when they’re inside enjoying French fineries and not unwrapping plastic cheese or drinking cider that’s been brewed in someone’s shed.
I’ve most likely already been lumped into the team yuppie category, which is fine because I will openly admit to preferring chilled champagne and vintage cheddar over a nice box of room-temp wine and some Babybell. I still don’t understand why these two entities can’t co-exist in harmony though, and remain baffled by this Champagne intolerance, particularly when it seems fairly misguided. I could understand protestors attacking some kind of tax-evading giant like Starbucks that threatens to destroy the Village’s small businesses, but Champagne and Fromage is just a husband and wife team importing wine from similarly small, independent, family-run vineyards in France.
Stefano and Maud Friggrio, who own the flagship store in Covent Garden and opened their new Brixton shop on October 15, insist that they’re accessible and not just about expensive champagne. “I love the Village, the atmosphere, the market, the mix of restaurants and shops, the different population; it’s very cosmopolitan,” Stefano says. “In a way you have gentrification but you have chains everywhere. What I like about the village is that you have all these independent, different businesses and ideas. I thought it’d be fantastic for us to be there and for the local people because we’re not just for rich people or yuppies; we’re educating people about cheese and champagne and how it’s made and it’s really the opposite of what people are assuming.”
Stefano and Maud’s import company French Bubbles is all about promoting non-famous champagne. “It’s about family production, people who are involved from picking the grapes to bottling the wine; it’s quality driven and really different from champagne brands that are mainly known just because they have giant marketing budgets. It’s about the wine,” Stefano tells.
The business started five years ago when the duo went to Champagne to visit around 20 of the 5000 producers in the region. They import champagne from six producers, all of whom create vastly different flavours and tastes. “The average production of these vineyards is 30,000 bottles a year; it’s very small scale,” Stefano explains. The shop and bar in the Village will stock 25 different champagnes at a time, including vintage, non-vintage, Rosé, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, and will serve five champagnes by the glass, which will change constantly. They’ll also serve a few very simple champagne cocktails along the lines of the Bellini, Kir Royale, and the classic champagne cocktail.
The Fromage part of the equation comes courtesy of Borough Market’s Un Normande a Londres, who have been importing cheese from small producers in France and selling at London markets for fifteen years. “Their business is run by three brothers, it’s really fresh and artisan,” Stefano says. Both a shop and a bistro, Champagne+ Fromage will sell their wares at their shop but also have a dine-in menu of charcuterie boards, cheese boards, open sandwiches, Raclette and hot camembert, which Stefano is conscious of keeping affordable. “These Raclettes are going to be £5; we’re not going to be expensive. Champagne will be priced from £8 to £12 and then we’ll have a happy hour to reduce the price further because we’re conscious of the fact we’re in a market.”
I genuinely hope this has put a cork on the whole non-issue that is another independent shop moving into the neighbourhood; time to wave the white (wine) flags gentlemen.
Champagne + Fromage will open at Unit 10 and 11 Brixton Village, SW9 8PR, on October 15 from Tuesdays-Sundays, 10am-11pm.