Champagne report 2014: Seizing the initiative

New laws

As a result, one measure proposed by the houses, and being considered as part of Project 2030, is a rule to enforce a three-month maturation period post-disgorgement. This would give the Champagne the chance to fully absorb and integrate the dosage, but also, importantly, hinder the speculative buying and selling of Champagne sur latte. Another approach however, is to alter the labelling rules for Champagne. Currently, the label must feature the person who disgorged the Champagne, but new proposals being considered would insist that the bottle should also bear the winemaker’s name.

This would not stop the creation of buyers’ own brands or exclusive labels, but increase the transparency and traceability of Champagne. As Phillipponnat stated in last year’s report, “You should say if a Champagne was made by, bottled by and disgorged by the same entity, or if not, who made it, who bottled it, and who disgorged it.” Under no illusion that this will prevent sur latte trading, this year he adds, “Nothing will stop it, but it will help differentiate quality Champagne makers, as well as stop serious brands buying sur latte.”Champagne-Volume-sales

Barillère adds: “A key point on the table for 2030 is a change to things inside the business – that is the trading of vins sur lattes and vins clairs. We are looking at how to give authenticity to the consumer, but at the same time give growers some flexibility to manage their finances.”

Meanwhile, Bonnefond is confident of imminent change on this issue. “We will find a way to end trading sur latte and that will come quickly, we are near the end and that is good news.”

Taking all three aspects of Project 2030 together – increasing quality, improving Champagne’s image, and preventing sur lattes trading, the entire plan has been devised to do one thing: increase the region’s profitability. And one can see why. Although the region is approaching a production limit of 370m bottles (based on an average yield of 12,400kg/ha), margins for many houses are declining. Indeed, figures show that between 1971 and 2011, the volume of Champagne produced has increased by 28%, but the value has only risen by 4%.

In particular, the average price for a bottle of Champagne has remained almost stable during the last four years, while grape prices have consistently increased. As Bonnefond points out, “One in 10 sparkling wines is called Champagne: we need to ask how do we keep the distance and increase it again, because we won’t compete on volumes.” Bonnefond then sums up: “I think the key will be how we move from creating value from volume growth to creating value from value growth.” And for that, the elements to Project 2030 discussed above need to become more than just proposals, and quickly.

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