Champagne: Passing the baton

The Champagne Comité meets to set the yield for the coming harvest usually in the last week of July, just before everything closes down in August, as it still largely does in France, and about six weeks before picking starts. 

By that point members hope to have a fair idea of how sales are going, even though it’s in the last quarter of the year that the majority of champagne is still purchased. 

This July, of course, they had a twin problem to deal with. One issue was that shipments to the largest export market in terms of volume were distorted as UK retailers shipped stock early in an attempt avoid problems with the first Brexit deadline of March 31. Another was that, in champagne’s second-largest export market by volume, which is now its most valuable because of higher average prices, there is a US president talking about sanctions against French wine. 


You could easily take the view, there- fore, that setting a yield to produce roughly 300m bottles was wildly optimistic in the present dire economic conditions. The French domestic market now takes less than 50% of worldwide sales and it continues to gradually decline. It’s very hard for lost sales in the two major export destinations to be replaced by growth, even in lots of small markets. 

But the decision is, of course, one that has to be approved by both sides of the Champagne business, the growers represented by the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne and the négociant houses interests by the Union des Maisons de Champagne. 

The growers are paid for their grapes by the kilo and, while the level looks very generous to most other French wine regions at somewhere north of €6 a kilo on average, and higher with bonuses, the amount of grapes they are allowed to pick per hectare directly and obviously effects their income. So, the SGV will not countenance too low a yield being set for its members. 

But nature has the last laugh on the yield front. If you look back over the years at the maximum yield set for each harvest, compared with the actual yield achieved, the latter is often at least 1,000kg/ha lower. 

And several producers are already predicting that, thanks to some frost damage followed by the searing temperatures of late July, the 2109 crop will be more like 9,000kg/ha on average than the permitted level of 10,200kg/ha.