The news items have looked a little dire the last couple months. Headlines have warned us of a Champagne shortage—casting doubt on our New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day toasts. And yet, we couldn’t help thinking the panic was little more than a clever marketing ploy by the world’s most famous wine region, combined with a news media in love with getting us all worked up. So we wanted to do a little digging ourselves, to sort fact from fiction on the current state of our Champagne supply.
Now, there’s good reason to worry about our Champagne going dry, and we’re not talking brut. There is less bubbly, and the problem began with a miscalculation during a time of crisis.
Fearing a global drop in demand for Champagne during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, grape harvests in 2020 were limited by the Comité Interprofessional de vin de Champagne, the trade group representing Champagne growers and producers. The 20 percent mandatory decrease in quantity was enacted to prevent a glut of Champagne during a potential market slump, which as we now know did not occur. Wine lovers drank more during the pandemic than ever before, causing an increase in sales of 64 percent from 2020 to 2021, with continued sales growth in 2022. A total of 326 million bottles of Champagne were shipped around the world in 2022, an uptick of 1.6 percent over the prior year.
David Chatillon, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne and co-president of the Comité Champagne, explained, “Champagne, as the supreme wine of celebrations, has been the natural choice of the world’s consumers as they rejoiced at the end of lockdowns and rediscovered a taste for parties, for going out and for traveling.”
So far, so good. Except that non-vintage Champagne is made with base wine from several vintages, and the regulated decrease in production in 2020 followed by a lower-than-normal harvest in 2021 due to weather conditions has led to a reduction in base wine stores. Without large quantities of prior vintage wine stored in tanks, ongoing production capacity of NV Champagne is limited, so Champagne houses have been holding back releases to offer a steady, if reduced, supply going forward. And the escalation in sales overall during the last year means that there may well be less to go around this year and into 2024. A strong 2022 harvest helped to increase the amount of base wine, but the resulting Champagne is at least two years away from release.
As Gilles Morisson de la Bassetière, CEO of Champagne de Venoge pointed out to Robb Report, “Sales in 2021 and 2022 were larger than what we put in the cellar.Andeven though the harvest was better in 2022, we won’t release those wines before 2025, so 2023 and 2024 are going to be tight.”
Franck Volleraux, chef du cave and co-owner of Champagne Volleraux told Robb Report, “Unfortunately, very bad weather during the 2021 season lessened the yield, creating strong tension in the markets. Despite a very good 2022 harvest, Champagne sales remain very strong and the 2022 harvest will barely cover this year’s releases.”
Volleraux further stated, “Sales were good in 2022. There are several factors that come into play: stronger global demand, consumers no longer hesitate to open a bottle of Champagne more regularly and people want to have fun. We tried to meet the demand of our customers and partners, but we chose to restrict volumes and we experienced some stock shortages on certain items.”
At Champagne Henri Giraud, Emmanuelle Giraud, CEO and 13th generation family sees both sides of the of the news emanating from the region. She pointed out to Robb Report, “Champagne demand is huge since the pandemic. It moved to another category, from being a ‘celebration wine’ to an ‘aperitif wine,’ meaning that wine drinkers are now pouring a glass of French bubbly before dinner rather than waiting for a special occasion.” However, Giraud and other houses are also expanding business opportunities by increasing the amount of Ratafia Champenois production. This style of fortified wine (akin to Port or Sherry) is made by adding brandy that has been distilled from Champagne to still base wine.
As Giraud explained, “At Champagne Henri Giraud, we could not fulfill all the orders in 2022 but we had the chance to replace this Champagne shortage by a new offer, which is Ratafia Champenois. It is also going crazy worldwide. In fact, in 2022, it was a chance for our partners around the globe to discover our Ratafia.”
While individual producers may be running low on stock, Charles Goemaere, director of the Comité Champagne, put the situation into a regional perspective, telling Robb Report, “Contrary to what can be read here and there, there is no risk of a shortage of Champagne on the markets. The ‘interprofessional reserve,’ which is a tool much appreciated by the people of Champagne, made it possible to compensate for the harvest deficit in 2021. With the . . . 2022 harvest, Champagne has brought in very significant quantities of very fine grapes which will make it possible to produce the wines that will be put on the market in a few years and to reconstitute the interprofessional reserve. Overall, Champagne stocks, including the interprofessional reserve, at the end of 2022 were estimated at nearly 1.5 billion bottles, more than enough to meet demand.”
In short, while not all the news coming out of Champagne is bad, we wouldn’t put our search for a particular bottle off too long (i.e., make sure to pick up those bubbles before February 14). And as long as none of us starts hoarding, there should be enough Champagne to go around throughout the rest of year. Who wants to save it all for holidays and special occasions anyway?