CHAMPAGNE SALES DOWN $2 BILLION
For months, lockdown made weddings, dining out, parties and international travel basically impossible. All these social occasions are key sales components for the sparkling French luxury wine marketed for decades as a must at any celebration.
Producers in France's eastern Champagne region, headquarters of the global industry, say they've lost an estimated €1.7 billion ($2 billion) in sales for this year, as turnover fell by a third — a loss unmatched in living memory, and worse than the Great Depression, according to Euronews
They expect about 100 million bottles to be languishing unsold in their cellars by the end of the year.
"We are experiencing a crisis that we evaluate to be even worse than the Great Depression" of 1929, said Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Champagne Committee, known by its French acronym CIVC, that represents some 16,000 winemakers.
Like oil-producing countries, the CIVC regulates the size of the harvest each year to avoid the kind of excess production that would cause bottle prices to plummet. To manage the losses, the CIVC is launching unprecedented damage-limitation measures.
At a meeting scheduled for Aug. 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 drop 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."