LVMH, the largest group in champagne, is selling its Canard-Duchêne brand to Alain Thiénot.

The move, which follows the disposal of the larger house of Pommery sold to the Vranken group in June 2002, is certain to lead to speculation about the future of Mercier, the only remaining brand in the LVMH portfolio that is heavily dependent on sales in the highly competitive and less profitable French supermarket arena.

The vast majority of Canard-Duchêne's sales, put at 2.8m bottles in 2002, are made in this sector of the French market where it sells on average for a little over €17 a bottle, a slightly higher price than Mercier. Although efforts have been made to increase the proportion of Canard-Duchene's sales on more profitable export markets, notably in the UK, it is still only the 16th largest brand by value, according to AC Nielsen figures for 2002. Total UK sales reached 30,000 cases in 2002, according to brand manager at Paragon Vintners Simon Gotelee.

Final details of the deal, which is very unlikely to include any vineyards, are expected to be confirmed later next week.