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Champagne ups reserve as sales grow

The Comité Champagne has confirmed that it will raise the quantity of wine available as a reserve from last year’s harvest due to an expected 1% increase in sales for 2014.

In a statement released this morning, the sparkling wine region’s governing body stated, “Although sales figures are not yet finalised, it is already clear that Champagne shipments worldwide will reach at least 307 million bottles, confirming the release of 500 kilos/hectare from the reserve and increasing the available harvest for 2014 to the equivalent of 309.6 million bottles.”

Prior to this statement, Champagne growers and houses had set a figure of 400 kilos/hectare to be released from the reserve, leaving open the possibility of increasing this to 500 kg/ha if sales exceeded 307 million bottles by the end of the year.

With an estimated rise in Champagne shipments of 1% by volume, the appellation is expected to have sold close to 308m bottles in 2014, marking a rebound for the region which has seen annual global sales fall since 2007, when they reached a peak of 338.7m bottles.

However, there is a concern among some in the region that the quantity of reserve wine in Champagne may be getting too high.

While the Champagne reserve system allows part of the crop to be set aside in good years, enabling producers to cushion the effects of a very poor harvest – as well as add depth and complexity to their blends – it must be kept properly and rotated regularly.

“The concern is both the amount of reserve wines and the way they are stored,” commented Charles Philipponnat, head of the house by the same name, during a discussion with db in Champagne last week.

“While 15% reserve [in a Brut NV] was considered a high proportion in the 80s, now if you want a proper rotation of your reserve you will have over 30%, and it is a lot, and it needs to be kept properly,” he continued.

“You need good quality tanks – or barrels in our case – and sufficient capacity, because some have almost a full harvest in reserve,” he added.

Indeed, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne, Moët’s Jean-Marie Barillère, told db that the total reserve is around 8-9,000kg per hectare per grower, although he added that this seemingly high figure was “not a problem”.

“It helps us a lot to have the reserve… it is very good in terms of quality for the region,” he commented.

While he agreed that if a grower had both a lot of stock in bottle and wine in tank, then there could be an issue, he said that for a “normal operator with 8-9000kg/ha in reserve and around three years’ inventory in bottle, then there is no problem qualitatively or quantitatively.”

Meanwhile, Philipponnat stated, “Half a harvest is enough to absorb a shock, so a maximum reserve of 6,000 kg/ha is enough.”

The yield set for the 2014 harvest was 10,500kg per hectare, an increase on 2013’s limit of 10,000kg/ha, but still smaller than the 11,000kg/ha of 2012.

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