Champagne is on course for record sales in 2006 after a buoyant first half of the year.   

Figures from trade body, the UMC, show sales rose by 8.8% in the first six months of the year to just over 116m bottles.

"Growth in sales was driven from outside Europe and in particular Japan, China and Russia," the UMC's president Yves Bénard told just-drinks today (8 September). "There was also strong demand from the UK, Spain and Italy but stagnation continues in France."

Champagne's domestic market remains by the far its most important, accounting for 64.8m bottles during the first half.

Bénard, however, warned of a general slowdown during the second half of the year. "There was a hike in Champagne prices in April and a lot of orders were placed before it took effect," he said.

"This, coupled with the level of stocks, will probably mean a slowdown in the rate of sales growth in the second half of the year to around 4 to 5%. Nevertheless, we are still heading for a record year," Bénard said.