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Tough Year Ahead For Champagne Producers

Harvesting pinot noir grapes in the eastern city of Bethon, Champagne, 2012
© AFP | Harvesting pinot noir grapes in the eastern city of Bethon, Champagne, 2012
Champagne must market its "unique heritage," says industry leader.

The head of Champagne's main wine industry body, Le Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), has called on producers not to panic over falling sales.

Speaking at this year's St Vincent de L’Archiconfrérie de la Champagne festival, CIVC president Jean-Luc Barbier said total sales for 2012 were expected to be 312 million bottles (about 10 million bottles fewer than in 2011). However, the total value was estimated to remain at the same level as the previous year, at 4.4 billion euros ($5.88bn). This was due to an increase in exports – mainly to emerging markets willing to pay top dollar.

Barbier explained that 2013 would be a tough year and a lot of effort would be required to maintain the value of Champagne sales. The depletion of the region's wine reserves had put pressure on the region as a whole and the challenge would be to manage volumes in years to come.

"A value increase can be achieved by firmly re-establishing Champagne as a luxury product," said Barbier, "even if it means that volume sales in France and in neighboring countries may decline even further."

There was "no need to panic," as emerging markets abroad would expand whilst maintaining a better price.

However, Barbier warned that in order to succeed, producers would have to continue to deliver on high quality and invest more in sustainable viticulture. In addition they should invest further in making Champagne a strong brand, with emphasis on their "unique heritage" – an approach that has wide appeal in Asian markets. 

Presenting an overview of the 2012 vintage (the smallest since 1985 and 2003), Barbier said the average yield was "barely 9 tons per hectare" – 2 tons less than the yields set at the beginning of the harvest. 

"The quality of the 2012 wines was high for all three grape varieties," reported Barbier, who gave credit to "the hard work of the vignerons in a rather difficult year."

The low yield will be offset by the system of Réserve Individuelle (RI), which will allow most vignerons to meet the maximum yields of 11 tons per hectare. The RI allows wine growers to pick a little more in abundant years for use in in vintages with a significant shortage. This system of reserve wines has long been a pillar of Champagne production.

Barbier confirmed the CIVC’s investment in the region's vineyards, with 2 million euros ($2.67m) budgeted for preservation work in the coming year. The organization will continue to work with winegrowers on sustainable viticulture, improvement of soil quality, and restoring areas at risk of land slides. 

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