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Empty barrels for the next harvest sit in a cave belonging to Champagne producer Anselme Selosse in Avize, France, on July 28, 2020.Francois Mori/The Associated Press

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World Champagne Day was launched in 2009 to be a joyous celebration of one of the most prestigious of wines just as consumer attention turned toward holiday shopping. An estimated five million consumers participated in the 2018 celebrations.

You can imagine there’s much less fanfare for this year’s festivities, which are set for Oct. 23.

Who wants to celebrate in the midst of a health crisis, wonders Jean-Marie Barillère, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne, the trade organization for Champagne producers.

“It’s very difficult to know what will happen in November and December,” he said. Not surprisingly, the holidays represent Champagne’s strongest sales quarter.

Champagne’s long-established association to celebration as well as continued restrictions in social gatherings and dining at restaurants have spelled a steep decline in consumption since March. (At the onset of shutdown, buying habits shifted as consumers spent less per bottle to fund an increased volume of purchases. Pricey bottles of sparkling wine languished on the shelf as a result, while consumers continued to embrace more affordable alternatives lsuch as Prosecco and Cava.)

The region’s growers and producers are facing surplus inventory due to slumping sales in France and export markets around the world. An estimated 100 million bottles are expected to remain unsold, with little hope for a quick recovery. Sales figures for 2019 released by the Comité Champagne reported that, for the first time since 2009, the total amount of bottles sold dropped under 300 million as Champagne faced increased competition in global markets from less expensive bubbly. There’s no telling when global sales will return to the levels of 2018, when 301.9 million bottles were sold.

Despite a promising 2020 vintage in the region, with the earliest start date on record, restrictions were placed on this year’s harvest to reduce production and protect against oversupply that would cause prices to plummet. Optimistic producers suggest those reduced yields should spell even better quality for consumers when these wines become available roughly two years from now.

Champagne that’s for sale in our markets right now would have been made in 2018 or earlier. Many of the popular brands offer blends of wines produced in different years, which are assembled by the winemaking team to match a consistent house style. The most recent vintage typically represents a large part of the blend and is augmented by reserve wines. The region’s top wines are usually produced from a single vintage.

Sales slumps and contractions aren’t new to Champagne. Its wine trade has persisted through world wars, global economic recessions and other challenges over its long history. It’s not surprising how the Comité Champagne marketing association quickly turned its promotional efforts away from event marketing to education initiatives, including the launch of a free online course that covers the production methods, history and other pertinent details for understanding and appreciation of its sparkling wines. They know there will, once again, be something to celebrate in the future.

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