Comité tries to predict demand in difficult market

Yield for 2019 harvest set at 10,200kgs/ha

Champagne producers agreed to set the maximum yield level for the 2019 harvest at 10,200kilos per hectare, 600kgs/ha down on the base level of 10,800kgs/ha originally* announced for the 2018 harvest. If this level of yield is achieved in 2019, it will produce around 300m bottles. The CIVC Comité that represents the two sides of the champagne business — the (grape) growers and the merchant houses (négociants) – see this as the appropriate level to provide a suitable supply of champagne to meet future predicted demand. Or as the Comité put it: “This volume ensures a supply consistent with the needs of operators and maintains a balanced stock level for the sector.”

When they make this decision on the yield level in late July, with the harvest start typically six to eight weeks away, as well as considering the approaching harvest’s potential in terms of quality, health and size, plus the level of stocks and reserves currently held by producers, they look at current and future worldwide demand for champagne. It’s this last element that’s the trickiest; predicting demand. With issues at home, French domestic sales still account for nearly half of all champagne consumed (48.7% or 147.1m bottles in 2018) and in the two major export markets, the UK which is the largest by volume and the USA, the most valuable, this decision was particularly difficult this time.

As the Comité commented in its 24 July statement: “In the first half of the year [2019], Champagne sales increased further thanks to exports. It [value] is close to 5 billion euros over 12 rolling months despite decreasing shipments pronounced on a French market affected, including the consequences of an increased legislative framework of promotions in supermarkets. The resumption of shipments to the UK is only related to the precautionary measures taken on the assumption of a hard Brexit. The dynamism of most third countries, subject to uncertainties on world trade, will probably not fully offset the decline in volumes on the French market.”

This statement needs some interpretation. Worldwide demand for champagne is currently flat with shipments down 1.5% to the end of May 2019, while the MAT year-end figure is predicted to be around the 300m bottle mark. In the French domestic market — where 48.7% of champagne was sold in 2018 by volume but only 41.7% by value – it appears that French legislation banning the sale of champagne at under cost is being more rigorously applied. This is accelerating the overall decline in sales in France.

Shipments to the UK, which went up in the first half year only did so because of producers and retailers stockpiling in advance of the previous Brexit deadline of 29 March. Something it was fairly easy and relatively risk-free to do as at that time, just after the important year-end sales peak, as warehouses were fairly empty. The Champenois don’t believe this is sign of the UK market recovering any time soon. The Comité statement doesn’t even mention anything about President Trump’s threat to impose increased import duties on French wine into the USA, which would also be likely to have a negative impact on sales there.

What the important last quarter of 2019 will bring in terms of sales – it’s in these three months a disproportionately large percentage of champagne is purchased — is therefore very hard to predict. If there is an unexpected surge in sales, there is plenty of supply, however. Stocks are relatively high and after the bumper and high quality 2018 harvest, the average reserve held across the appellation sits at 7,750 kg/ha, very close to the maximum level of 8,000kgs/ha, and equivalent to around 230m bottles.
*While the yield for the 2018 was originally set at 10,800kgs/ha, partly because of its high quality, the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO) later agreed to allow producers to add 4,700 kg/ha to the reserve (providing their reserves did not exceed the maximum of 8,000 kgs/ha) so producers could harvest up to 15,500kgs/ha.

Earliest harvest ever in Champagne but also a plentiful, ripe crop

While the official Champagne harvest dates announced last Saturday gave this Monday (20 August) as the start date for picking, not Tuesday as has been widely reported, in fact picking began in the Grand Cru of Ambonnay last Friday, 17 August, making it the earliest harvest in Champagne on record.

By the process known as derogation, producers can apply to the local INAO office to start picking earlier than the official start date Continue reading “Earliest harvest ever in Champagne but also a plentiful, ripe crop”

The 2018 Champagne harvest has officially started

The Champagne harvest officially started today, Monday, 20 August. The secateurs were out in a number of villages, in the Côte des Bars region, including Buxeuil, Polisot and Polisy, where all three varieties may be harvested. The isolated cru of Montgueux, due east of the city of Troyes, renown for its super charged, ripe Chardonnay, that is set to start on Wednesday, will be cutting Meunier and Pinot Noir from tomorrow (21 August).

The secateurs will be out in Verzenay before the end of this week

Further north in the Marne department the dates for all varieties are largely set for later in the week. The premier cru of Cumières, that’s often one of the earliest crus to pick, begins on 24 August. Top Chardonnay villages like Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Oger and Le Mesnil may all begin on 27 August. While in the Montagne de Reims, Bouzy and Ambonnay are on Thursday (23 August), Aÿ on Friday (24 August) and even on the usually cooler northern slopes of Verzy and Verzenay the picture is similar –24 and 23 August respectively.

Nearly all 318 crus can start picking before the end of the month, there’s only a handful that are expected to wait until 1 September, and that’s the latest start date in any single village, bar Grauves which begins on 2 September.

Yields for 2018 harvest set at 10,800kgs/ha as Comité predicts growth over next few years

Champagne producers have just agreed to set the maximum yield level for the 2018 harvest at 10,800kilos per hectare. This is the same level as was agreed for the previous harvest in 2017, though that included 500kgs/ha to be released from the reserve, so it was effectively 10,300kgs/ha. After severe April frosts in 2017 and then major problems with rot just before picking began in late August the average yield for the 2017 reached 10,057 kg/ha, according to the provisional figure released by the Champagne Comité.

Picking grapes in Verzenay

So far, the 2018 growing season has been Continue reading “Yields for 2018 harvest set at 10,800kgs/ha as Comité predicts growth over next few years”

MACB 2018 now published

Met up with the team at Drinks International at the start of this week to celebrate the publication of the fourth ‘Most Admired Champagne Brands’ supplements I have overseen and written. You can read the magazine, our most successful and largest to date, via this link: https://goo.gl/U6jAnE .

We enjoyed a glass of Piper Heidsieck Rare 2002 over lunch, which 28-50 in Fetter Lane (along with its two sister restaurants) is selling for just £15 a glass (£89 a bottle). This must be just about the bargain fizz Continue reading “MACB 2018 now published”

Champagne shipments rise fractionally only

Champagne shipments has risen very slightly compared to the 306.096 bottles reached in 2016, rising by 0.52% or around 1.6m bottles to 307.7m bottles in 2017. At the end of November 2017 shipments were in line to rise to around 311m bottles and even the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) was predicting 310m bottles. But sales in December, usually the busiest month in the year, fell back generally by around 10%, on the same month in 2016.

The news follows a difficult harvest in 2017, when the general quality, particularly of the Continue reading “Champagne shipments rise fractionally only”

2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow

The last pressing of Mesnil grapes at Krug

The Champagne harvest has begun in earnest with the official dates for many of the major Côte des Blancs crus opening last Friday (1 September) and in the Montagne de Reims, crus like Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Bouzy and Verzenay starting today for black grapes. The first official day for picking was on 26 August for the cru of Montgueux, the isolated vineyard set on a hill due west of Troyes in the Côte des Bar that produces some of Champagne’s richest Chardonnay. As is fairly normal, Continue reading “2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow”