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INAO permits yield increase in Champagne

Published:  23 July, 2008

By Giles Fallowfield
Production in Champagne could increase by as much as 70 million bottles from the next (2007) harvest. L'Institut National de l'Appellation d'Origine (INAO) has decided to allow the maximum permitted yield in the appellation to rise from 13,000 to 15,500 kilos per hectare.

However, the extra volume above 13,000kg/ha, of up to 2,500kg/ha, will not be given the appellation, and will be held in tank by the growers in individual reserves - L'instant Volume Complmentaire Individuel (VCI) - as an insurance against future bad harvests when production is hit by disease, frost or hail.

INAO has not given a blanket approval for higher yields in Champagne and the new arrangements are effectively an experiment which will run over the next five harvests. INAO will decide at the point of harvest, as it does now, at what level yields will be set and, if more than 13,000kg/ha is to be allowed, at what level up to the new maximum of 15,500kg/ha.

The growers will be allowed to build up their stocks to 8,000kg/ha, equivalent to just over half a harvest or around 218 million bottles.

INAO's decision has generally been warmly welcomed by the growers in Champagne. Patrick le Brun, prsident du Syndicat Gnral des Vignerons (SGV), the main growers' union, said the decision had come as a result of the hard work put in by the SGV and the Fdration des Cooperatives. It certainly appears that the growers have gained most; in the French press it was described as an early Christmas present for them from INAO.

Those who own Grand Cru vineyards, which attract the highest grape prices (just over 5 per kilo in 2006) stand to

gain up to a further 12,500/ha for their production on top of the 65,000/ha that they are already paid for the current maximum yield.

INAO's decision falls short of meeting the major houses' desire for an increase in yields across the appellation whenever the volume and quality is available in an effort to meet the rising demand for their brands. However, Yves Bnard, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) told Harpers: The houses are happy with the INAO decision, even if the coming two years will be dedicated to increasing the "vins bloqus" close to 8,000 kg/ha. After that, depending of the economic situation, it will be possible to look at a yield above 13,000 kg/ha. If the quality is there, of course.'