Friday, March 21, 2008

Pop The Cork

Historic Decision to Expand the Champagne Region

by Lourdes Castro

You just got an increase in your champagne wishes.
Last week the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) – the organization that regulates France’s appellation system – voted unanimously to extend the champagne growing region.

A historic decision since this is the first time the area has been expanded since it was first delineated in 1927.

Map of the Champagne region.
Why the decision and why now … Although it doesn’t seem like it, champagne is a finite resource. In order to be called champagne, grapes that are used to make the bubbly can only come from a defined 83,000 acres of area in France. At its maximum production capacity, experts have said the area can produce 350 million bottles of champagne a year. In 2007 it produced 330 million bottles.

We are approaching a champagne shortage. While there has been a global increase in wine consumption as a whole, there are a few specific incidents that contribute to the decreased availability and increased cost of champagne.

The French remain the highest consumers of their bubbly with the Brits coming in second, but there has been a significant increase in the sale of champagne to emerging markets – Russia, China, and India. And this is creating a supply problem for the rest of us.

To complicate the problem, the small independent vineyard owners who currently supply 90% of the grapes used to make champagne are hoarding about 10% of their harvest. Many have said if those bottles were released into the supply, the potential shortage would be avoided.

But that is not likely to happen as the grape growers have been using this hoarding practice as a way of securing their nest egg. Pensions are notoriously dismal for these farmers and so they have to take it upon themselves to secure their future.

Now that the region has been expanded what can we expect …
The 38 newly included villages will have to adhere to strict regulations by the INAO and new vine plantings will have to take place. It is currently estimated that this will not be completed until 2015, which means we will not see extra champagne in the market place until 2020 at the earliest.

Its not instant bubbly gratification, but at least there is light at the end of the barrel.

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