Blog: Chris MercerChampagne in (new) crisis, again

Chris Mercer | 31 January 2011

There are a significant number of French winemakers who are malcontent unless enveloped by either the prospect of crisis or its aftermath. It's a dream state of mind for our 24-hour news culture.

A story in the UK's Telegraph newspaper caught my eye today by declaring that the Champagne cellars will run dry by April. It even drafts in Paul Vranken, the oft-outspoken head of Vranken-Pommery Monopole, who says that the industry will be "very, very stretched".

Such is the presumed blind panic in the region that no one was answering the phones at Champagne Council (CIVC) headquarters today.

What a rollercoaster of emotions it must be to work in Champagne. Back in 2007, the world was awash with stories that Champagne stocks were fizzling out. Industry leaders were letting it be known that Champagne could not afford to increase sales by more than 2% in volume annually, otherwise there would be shortages. Prosecco producers could be heard singing from across the Alps.  

Then came the global financial hullabaloo, or the GFH as I call it. Champagne sales plummeted and retailers sold off excess stocks at prices normally reserved for half-decent sparkling wine - but not, of course, Champagne. The CIVC capped production in order to limit future supplies - most Champagne on the market uses grapes that were harvested at least two years ago.

In 2010, however, consumer demand rebounded strongly, even if prices have been a little slow to catch up. Now, alas, we are told that Champagne stocks are, again, drying up.  

This is just a hunch, but could it be that Vranken-Pommery is merely applying pressure on the CIVC to relax the production cap for this year's grape harvest? There's an idea.


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