Champagne; too successful by half? And bottles, and magnums…


Well, as the Champenois put up their feet, preparing for some late summer sun on the Riviera after an extraordinarily early harvest, there must, for all those rugby and football woes, be a few smiles on their faces. Why? Because once more the stories of demand exceeding supply and global supply shortages are doing the rounds, grist to the mill of publicity at which the marketing professionals at the big companies such as LVHH and Vranken excel, nonchalantly of course.

But is there any truth in them? The Comité Interprofessionel Des Vins De Champagne ( CIVC) are now authorising absurdly high yields (15,500 kg/ha including bloquage – enough to make a Bordelais blush and a Burgundian faint) and yet if they are to maintain the quality imperative which has been the bed-rock of their success they will be unwise to try and extend the vineyard area (currently at pretty much full capacity at 34,000 hectares) or to reduce the ageing requirement of the wines.

Production, 25 million bottles in 1950, is set to be a record 328 million bottles this year, pretty much exactly mirroring the current sales. But the current sales look set to rise by up to 5% a year. There is no slack any more, and emerging markets, carefully nurtured, now need to be quenched.

So yes, there will inevitably be a supply problem. What I think we will see is that the great Grandes Marques will gradually cease the extraordinary St Vitas Dance of deep discounting that has been a bizarre feature of our high streets for so long, and will eventually pull out of the high street altogether, being far more selective about their distribution, primarily in the independent sector and leading hotels and restaurants.

Greater polarity will ensue with the big brands from the Boizel Group, The Vrankens and Pernod Ricard all still being widely available, but the Pols, Bols and Roederers of this world will be much harder to find, with, inevitably, concomitant pressure on prices. Every which way the Champenois can not fail to come out on top, if they can continue to manage the grape supply and pricing with their habitual aplomb.

Is it all over for Grandes Marques on the high street?