Champagne sales during the first ten months of 2008 indicate a 4.9% drop following a record 338 million bottles sold in 2007, according to France's champagne wine board, CIVC. October was particularly significant with 23% less bottles leaving France's main cellars compared to a year ago.
Exports to Britain fell by 8% in the first nine months of this year, while sales to the US collapsed by 17% and these falls were recorded before the full impact of the financial storm. It's the first time in twenty years sales are down, but for the champagne industry the situation is different to other sectors since champagne does not have an overproduction problem but rather the contrary. "We needed to replenish our own stocks, as our biggest risk is a dearth," said Ghislain de Montgolfier, the head of Bollinger and president of the Union of Houses of Champagne in an interview with Le Monde. Compared to what is happening with other sectors, "this is a mere slowdown". Daniel Lorson, CIVC spokesperson, said that it still made economic sense to expand the area covered by appellation vineyards, a decision taken earlier this year before the full scale of the economic crisis became clear. "We will plant them gradually as world demand grows, and if there is no demand in world demand then we will review the situation. In any case, there will be no champagne bottled from new vineyards until 2020," he said. However after two decades of steady growth of around 2% per year, the latest figures suggest the party might be over. "You need to feel good, to feel happy to drink champagne. It's a way of life. And when the environment is not so good, people perhaps don't feel quite like drinking as much" said Lorson, who nevertheless added "Champagne can be a remedy to the current atmosphere". Lorson said it was too early to say whether the drop in the number of bottles leaving Champagne houses actually meant that people were drinking less of the stuff. It could be that supermarkets are selling off existing stocks rather than buy more. Overall the industry is expecting a 7% fall in 2008 sales. However this will not necessarily be an across the board situation: "the strong imposed brands can still count with their faithful clients".