Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Night They Re-Invented Champagne

According to this short piece in the Times and a longer one by ABC News (more in depth reporting on ABC—really?), the body governing French wine laws is officially expanding the northeastern region known as Champagne to include an additional 40 communities. The reason, they say, is that demand for champagne will soon overtake the region's ability to produce the product—the production potential is 400 million bottles and in 2007, 338.7 million bottles were sold. It will be about another decade before any of these new vineyards produce a salable product; in the meantime, the cost of the land in these communities will most likely increase 3-5,000 percent per acre. 

Obviously, there are purists everywhere who won't buy/drink a sparkling wine if it's not champagne. Personally, Catherine and I have become big fans of the Spanish cavas (when we want something drier) or Italian proseccos (which is slightly sweeter). But really, if it's a good wine, it doesn't matter if it's from New Zealand, Argentina or California. And, of course, these other wines are usually cheaper than champagnes. 

So, naturally, the cynic in me thinks that's got to be driving at least some of this decision. If the the production potential is reached and yet demand continues to grow, the price of champagne goes up: this would seem to be an ideal situation for the vineyards. If, however, there's more champagne being made, there's the potential for even cheaper versions of the product. And, let's face it: it's pretty unlikely that any new vineyard is going to come up with the equivalent of a Dom or a Cristal right off the bat, so the high end wines are not in any danger of losing their market share.

Incidentally, of the 338.7 million bottles of champagne sold, less than half—about 150 million—were exported. There are approximately 60 million people living in France. I'd say the French are having a lot more fun the rest of us!

No comments: