Record year for French champagne fails to cheer grape growers

A remueur looks at the dead yeast cells and sediment formed at the bottom a Krug Champagne bottle in the cellar of the Krug Champagne house in Reims, eastern France, April 20, 2016. — AFP pic
A remueur looks at the dead yeast cells and sediment formed at the bottom a Krug Champagne bottle in the cellar of the Krug Champagne house in Reims, eastern France, April 20, 2016. — AFP pic

PARIS, March 5 — At first glance, 2017 was a stellar year for French champagne, with 307 million bottles sold for a record €4.9 billion (RM 23.58 billion) — but many of those growing the grapes see little to celebrate.

Sales in France actually fell amid rising competition from Italian prosecco and Spanish cava, meaning vineyard owners hoping to sell their own bubbly are having to rethink their strategies, and their prospects.

The big champagne houses — illustrious names like Krug, Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot — accounted for some 72 per cent of total sales, which rose by 0.4 per cent.

Smaller vineyards and cooperatives made up the rest, but their share has been shrinking in recent years, in large part because of a reliance on the domestic market.

“From 2007 to 2016, the vineyards have lost about 25 per cent of their shipments by volume,” said Aurelie Ringeval-Deluze, a wine industry expert at the University of Reims, in the heart of champagne country.

Sales within France dipped 2.5 per cent last year — but the drop was 4.9 per cent for the smaller houses, or 2.5 million fewer bottles, according to the Champagne Committee trade body.

“The problem is that the French market is tough, very competitive... but 80 per cent of vineyards sell their champagne in France,” said Maxime Toubart, head of the Champagne Winegrowers’ Union.

Restrictions meant to ensure quality — like ageing the wine at least 18 months — mean that champagne is pricier than other domestic and foreign sparkling wines, and French consumers have been feeling the pinch more generally after a decade of dismal economic growth.

Looking abroad

As a result, more vineyards are selling their grapes directly to the big houses instead of trying to compete with their own champagne.

“Vineyards are increasingly dependent on the houses to sell their stocks, because they have the means to go sell the bottles in distant markets at high prices,” Toubart said. — AFP-Rekaxnews

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