France puts a cork in champagne sales

Champagne is traditionally a drink for celebrations and gatherings but the coronavirus lockdown orders in much of the world have put a major dent in sales, with lost revenues so far estimated at 1.7 billion euros ($1.8 billion).
·1 min read

The French champagne industry's trade body suspended early sales of the iconic sparkling wine Wednesday in an effort to support prices and deal with a huge stock overhang made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Champagne is traditionally a drink for celebrations and gatherings but the coronavirus lockdown orders in much of the world have put a major dent in sales, with lost revenues so far estimated at 1.7 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

With producers having sold around 100 million fewer bottles so far this year, or about a third of the annual total last year, many are in sore need of cash.

The Comite Champagne that regulates the industry banned until June 8 the pre-sale of bottles that are still in the fermentation process to prevent retail prices from falling steeply.

"It is to preserve the value of the product in a context where we are selling practically nothing," said Jean-Marie Barillere, co-president of the Comite Champagne.

Champagne makers usually pre-sell some 10 to 15 million bottles per year of the sparkling wine that can spend one to five years slowly fermenting in the bottle while being stocked on its side.

But with global excess supply estimated at 400 million bottles, Barillere said the ban was just a first emergency step and that further measures would be announced at the end of the month after consultations with the French state and European Commission.

"It sends shivers down your spine," said Barillere. "Companies are going to disappear."

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