A fall in demand for Champagne during the global economic downturn could hand producers a chance to rebuild depleted stocks, the president of Champagne Houses Union has said.

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

Speaking at the annual Champagne tasting in London today (17 March), de Montgolfier added: "So, this kind of [economic] crisis, in one little way, is good."

Soaring demand for Champagne in foreign markets, from London to Moscow and Beijing, has put supplies under pressure in the last few years, according to the UMC and the regional trade body for Champagne, CIVC. Plans to expand the Champagne appellation are not expected to come to fruition for around another decade.

The CIVC said in February that 322.5m bottles of Champagne were sold last year, a decrease of 4.8% on 2007.

The UMC's de Montgolfier told just-drinks today that volumes are expected to continue falling this year.

He said that the Union has three scenarios mapped out for the economic crisis, depending on the scale of the fall. The worst of these would see sales slipping by more than 10%, and perhaps as much as 20% in a year.

Producers remain confident, however, according to de Montgolfier. "We have ways of managing volume," he said, adding that producers may choose to sit on stocks and wait for a better economic climate. "We could divide the harvest into two: the first part we allow to be sold and the other is kept as stock."

De Montgolfier said that he thought consumers would continue to drink Champagne because of its iconic status, despite the economic downturn.