Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.


Published:  23 July, 2008

By Giles Fallowfield

A record volume of Champagne will be produced following the 2004 harvest. As a result of the recent INAO decision to allow the Champenois to exceed the maximum permitted yield for the appellation, there will be enough wine elaborated to make nearly 380 million bottles of Champagne. This decision by the INAO to allow extra production follows a joint appeal to Herv Gaymard, the French Minister of Agriculture, in early October by Yves Bnard, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC), representing all the ngociants, and Patrick le Brun, president of the Syndicat Gnral des Vignerons de la Champagne (SGV), the main growers' union. They asked Gaymard to support their request for raising permitted yields to 14,000 kilos per hectare (kg/ha), 1,000 kilos above the usual maximum, in order to help replenish stocks depleted as a result of the short harvest in 2003. The Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) has confirmed that the equivalent of 12,000kg/ha or just over 324 million bottles will actually be given the appellation (the right to be put in bottle and sold under the Champagne AOC), while the remaining 2,000 kilos (equivalent to approximately 54 million bottles) goes into the so-called qualitative reserve'. This record level of production easily passes the previous peak of 334 million bottles produced from the 1999 harvest - and the equivalent of 103 million bottles from previous harvests had to be taken out of the qualitative reserve to achieve that volume. The previous largest harvest where few reserves were used was in 2000, when 325.1 million bottles were made with the equivalent of only 3 million bottles from the reserves. The maximum permitted yield has, however, been higher than 14,000kg/ha in the past - in 1982 and 1983 maximum yields were set at 14,300kg/ha and 15,200kg/ha respectively, and average yields actually reached 14,071kg/ha and 15,006kg/ha. However in 1982, the area of productive vineyard in Champagne was only 23,588ha, and the following year it had risen to only 23,903ha. In 2004 it is unlikely there will be fewer than 31,800ha in production after several years of additional planting. There is little doubt that the maximum level is achievable right across the appellation, as even the CIVC estimated there was around 20,000kg/ha on the vines when the harvest started. Bnard described the harvest as similar to 1982 in terms of both quantity and quality'. (1982 was the first harvest of over 2 million hectolitres in Champagne, and until 1998, the second largest ever; it was also one of the best-quality vintages of the past 30 years.) We are lucky, we had a large crop of fantastic quality and very healthy fruit. Because of that,' said Bnard, we asked the French Minister of Agriculture if we could pick an extra 1,000kg/ha above the maximum normally permitted for the appellation. As you know, we need to replenish our stocks after the very small harvest last year [2003, when average yields were just 8,251kg/ha] and we want to do this [pick extra grapes] because the quality is looking so good and the quantity is there.' As Bnard says, such a high-volume crop should help take some pressure off grape prices (and vins clair), which have risen significantly towards e5 per kilo, the highest since 1990 when Ffr32 a kilo (just under e5) was paid, helping to precipitate the collapse in the market in the early 1990s. I fully agreed with the efforts to get approval for an increase in the permitted crop,' said Patrice Noyelle, managing director of Pol Roger. We have a basic problem here in Champagne in that while we are producing on average 300 million bottles a year, we are also selling 300 million bottles each year. And because the market is out of balance the price of grapes is jumping to the sky. Prices are already up a good 5% on last year and the average price looks like being not much below e5 a kilo.'