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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Giles Fallowfield

The Champagne rumour-mongering machine went into overdrive last week, revisiting what has for the past decade or so been its favourite subject: the alleged sale of part or all of the second-largest group in the appellation, Marne & Champagne. This time round there were even details circulating to the extent that Mot & Chandon and the Thinot group were to be involved in purchasing Marne's own-label BOB business. But in an unprecedented move aimed at stopping this story dead in its tracks, Marne's director general Franois-Xavier Mora has gone on record in the French newspaper l'Union, issuing a detailed denial in which he even specifically mentions Mot and Thinot and says: We are selling nothing.' The story appears to have surfaced now because Marne is in the process of refinancing its debt, securing a new loan for m400 million. Crdit Lyonnais, the bank that originally undertook to do this before the end of December last year, couldn't find sufficient people to take the debt on and now Nomura, which sorted out the original package whereby the maturing stock of Champagne in Marne's cellars was used as security against the loan, has been appointed in its place. When asked why he thought Crdit Lyonnais had failed, Mora specifically mentioned the Bricout affair. After this scandal, financiers regard Champagne with suspicion.' L'Union itself suggested there were several things that might explain the rumours: Lanson selling its historic site in Boulevard Lundy in Reims; the recent departure of directeur gnral Georges Alnot and the company's finance director; and the company's continuing high level of debt.