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My View: Timing sucks for Champagne expansion

Published:  18 January, 2007

I am in favour of the proposed expansion of Champagne, although only an idiot would deny that the timing sucks.

The sole proviso - and it is a big one - is that any such expansion should guarantee that the potential quality of the region will rise.

The obvious way to achieve this would be to work out the average chelle de cru per hectare for the current region, then insist that no new land be authorised unless it achieves a higher chelle.

Claude Taittinger called for expansion in the early 1980s,

when almost one-third of the AOC land had yet to be

planted. I called for one in the early 1990s, when the market

crashed. At either point, any increase would have been seen

as an academic exercise.

Now, with almost every square inch of AOC land cultivated and an unprecedented pressure on stocks from record sales,

Champagne stands accused of naked greed.

Had the process begun in the early 1990s, there would

have been no recriminations today, and production would

be moving seamlessly into expanded areas just when they

were needed.

However, Champagne sales are cyclical and the next crash

is long overdue. When it happens, it is likely to coincide

with Champagne gearing up for a major expansion of its

vineyards. As demand drops off, overstocking will dwarf

that of the last crash, and they will still be getting it in the

neck for being too greedy.

Talk about bad timing.

Tom Stevenson is a wine writer specialising in Champagne.