Champagne houses, already hit by a decline in export volumes, face a test of their mettle this Christmas in a weakening global economy.

Champagne sales for the 12 months ended 31 October dipped 3.7% by volume and the decline has accelerated over the last couple of months, according to Champagne trade body CIVC.

Producers say they will get a better gauge of the industry's performance in the global financial crisis after Christmas, a period that traditionally accounts for 40% of annual sales volumes.

Daniel Lorson, of the CIVC, told just-drinks today (23 December): "I'm constantly in touch with many producers and they are still confident about the medium term."

He said of the Christmas period: "Even in hard times, as they are now for many, Champagne is also a way to forget everyday life and problems. Maybe there will be a little trading down, but the idea of Christmas and New Year without a few corks popping - I can't imagine that."

Champagne exports to the US fell 17% in the first nine months of this year, CIVC figures show, although the body argues that 2007 was a record year for volume sales.

Lorson said that other markets, such as Russia, India and China, as well as those closer to home, such as Austria, Belgium and Italy, were performing well.

He added that price increases over the last couple of years meant that exports by value were in better shape. "Many producers will have done even better this year than in 2007," he said.