According to Champagne marketing board CIVC, sales of Champagne for the first eleven months of 2012 were down 3.8 percent on the previous year. The fall is primarily due to a drop in sales in France - the region’s largest market - where they declined by 5.2 percent to 144.35 million bottles, though also to falling volumes in Europe. Moving annual totals within Europe dropped by 8.3 percent due to markets such as the United Kingdom and Germany. However, Thibaut Le Mailloux, spokesman for the marketing board, said the figures should be put into perspective: “the downturn comes on the back of two years of strong growth that followed the 2008-2009 financial crisis”.
Fortunately, although many of the region’s sales outlets are in Europe, non-EU countries came to the rescue with a rise of 3.5 percent in sales. The Chinese market may well be geared to red wines, the first half of 2012 saw it reach a turning point with China entering the top 10 export destinations for Champagne for the first time ever. Sales surged by almost 100 percent to 947,713 bottles over the half-year. Fellow Asian market Japan also rose significantly (+26 percent) to over 4.5 million bottles. “Exports to non-EU markets, which buy many top-of-the-range Champagnes, are offsetting the downturn in European markets and should enable us to maintain the same turnover as in 2011”. Value sales are expected to be on a par with those of the previous year when calendar-year figures are finalised. However volume sales will likely be lower at around 312 million bottles, significantly less than the 323 million bottles sold in 2011 and 2007’s record level of 338.7 million.
Despite the marketing board’s outwardly upbeat attitude, there is undoubtedly concern within the region over the impact of cut-price selling and also competition from other sparkling wines. The board has been chewing over various options for improving the quality of Champagne in order to put some of the value back into the product. Amongst these options are a longer minimal ageing period – perhaps 18 or even 24 months compared with the current 15 – and increased quantities of grapes entering the press. One idea is to raise the amount from 160 kg to 170 kg for 1.02 hectolitres of press wines. The marketing board says it has yet to reach a final decision on these and other issues and will only implement any changes over a long period of time: “The measures will be introduced gradually and will fully come into effect in 2030”, said Ghislain de Montgolfier, chairman of the shippers’ association and vice-chairman of the CIVC.