French winemaker group tries to limit damage to ChampagneWorld | 1 Aug 2020 6:50 pm
France's Champagne Committee, known by its French acronym CIVC, that represents some 16,000 winemakers, is launching unprecedented damage-limitation measures as they lose sales.
Like oil-producing countries, the committee regulates the size of the harvest each year to avoid the kind of excess production that would cause bottle prices to plummet. At a meeting scheduled for August 18, it’s expected to impose a cap so tight that record quantities of grapes will be destroyed or sold to distilleries at discounted prices.
The prospect alarms smaller producers, who are more vulnerable than the big houses.
Anselme Selosse, of Jacques Selosse Champagnes, called it “an insult to nature” that champagne’s famous grapes might even be destined to produce alcohol for hand sanitizer, as is happening in other wine-producing regions such as Alsace after demand spiked during the pandemic.
“We are to destroy (the grapes) and we pay for them to be destroyed,” Selosse said, referring to the industry as a whole. “It’s nothing but a catastrophe.”
“Champagne has never lived through anything like this before, even in the World Wars,” Selosse added. “We have never experienced ... a sudden one-third fall in sales. Over one hundred million bottles unsold.”
Major producers such as Vranken-Pommery predict that the crisis could last for years.
“It should not be forgotten that (champagne) has lived through every single war,” said Paul-Francois Vranken, founder of Vranken-Pommery Monopole. “But with the other crises, there was a way out. For now, there is no way out — unless we find a vaccine.”
Vranken said the very essence of champagne marketing -- as a drink quaffed at parties and weddings -- needs to be re-evaluated to reflect the new normal: Fewer festivities and a lack of celebratory group events. The new branding strategy for his, and other champagne companies, will seek to highlight the wine’s status as a naturally, and often organically, produced quality drink from a historic French region.