In what is certain to be bad news for the vineyards, France – Champagne’s largest market – is drinking fewer bottles. Sales of Champagne for the country were down 4.9 percent, and 5 percent elsewhere in the 27-country European Union, in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, according to CIVC, the national association of growers and producers of the wine.
Nineteen months of rising unemployment and growing fears that the worst is yet to come have taken their toll on France – nearly seven in 10 French are worried about their country’s future, according to a recent poll.
“The French are pessimist by nature,” said Antoine Chiquet, whose family has been producing Champagne for three generations and wine for eight. “We had a difficult election, we’re in an economy where Europe’s foundations are being questioned.”
Nonetheless, the country managed to drink 175.7 million bottles of Champagne from Nov. 1, 2011, to Oct. 31, 2012, according to CIVC – enough for nearly 3 bottles a year for every man, woman and child but about 10 million bottles fewer than the previous year.
Though the news out of France and Europe is bad,CIVC figures show export sales were up 3 percent in the first three quarters of the year.
A total of 19.4 million bottles of Champagne went to the United States and 7.9 million went to Japan – the only two countries outside Europe in the top seven export markets.
Takayasu Ogata, a Tokyo-based sommelier, said Champagne and sparkling wine consumption is climbing in Japan at a time when overall wine demand peaked about 2000. According to the French figures, Champagne consumption alone was up nearly 7 percent over a year there.
“Both individuals and restaurants are taking to Champagnes with personality, including those that are from small makers but taste good,” he said.
Lower price is another reason. Gone are the days when a bottle of Moet & Chandon went for $60 or more in Japan. These days, you can get real Champagne for as little as $25.
Of course, for those with rich tastes and a budget to match there are still lots of expensive Champagnes, selling for 10 times that, according to Ogata, who works at Venture Republic, an Internet retailer, and is in charge of wines.