Champagne's ruling council will this week restrict the amount of Champagne allowed onto the market, as new figures suggest export sales have plummeted in the first half of 2009.

Champagne production from the 2009 grape harvest is to set to be curtailed at a meeting of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) tomorrow (Wednesday 2 September), the trade body has told just-drinks.

The meeting, which has been planned for several weeks, has been given fresh urgency by figures that show Champagne exports fell 45% in value and 41% in volume in the first half of 2009 - released by France's wine and spirits export body FEVS last week.

A CIVC spokesperson declined to confirm the FEVS figures to just-drinks, however. "The only reliable figures we have are volume data for the first semester (first half) of 2009 vs 2008. They show a decrease of 19%," he said.

Champagne producers, which have seen sales rise to unprecedented levels in the recent years of global economic growth, have been more acutely hit by the downturn than many other wine and spirits makers.

Restricting production, known legally as 'blocage', has been used intermittently by the Champagne industry since the 1930s. "We shall use the tool again this year to hold back a certain quantity of the 2009 harvest," the CIVC spokesperson said.

Over the weekend, Champagne house Vranken-Pommery Monopole called on the CIVC to "significantly reduce the volume of grapes released onto the market from the 2009 harvest".

Some industry leaders have suggested that the recession may help Champagne producers to restore balance between supply and demand, however.

Champagne sales by volume can only afford to grow by an average 2% annually for the next decade, otherwise there will by supply shortages, according to Ghislain de Montgolfier, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC).

The Champagne growing region is set to be expanded, but this is not expected to come into force before 2017.

The 'blocage' tool is legal across the EU, due to European Commission wine market reform, and will also be used this year by Chianti Classico in Italy. There, up to 20% of production from the 2009 harvest will be withheld from the market.  

Other well-known wine regions have chosen not to restrict production.

A spokesperson for Burgundy's ruling council, the BIVB, told just-drinks that the body has no plans to implement blocage. "The BIVB has never used this policy, unlike in Champagne, where it is used all the time," she said.

"BIVB does not intend to intervene in this way in the coming harvest."