Sales of Champagne are set to rise by between 6 and 8 per cent this year, marking a recovery to pre-Millennium levels following a sharp downturn in sales of bubbly last year, France's Champagne industry body said on Tuesday.
The Champagne trade group, the CIVC, estimated that 280 million to 285 million bottles of bubbly will have been bought by year-end, compared to the 263 million sold in 2001. The projected sales would match levels last seen in 1998 - the last "very good year" before the pre-millennium high and post-millennium slump distorted the region's performance.
Some 300 million bottles of champagne were purchased in 1999 in anticipation of the year 2000 celebrations. But the bubble burst in 2001 as retailers with overstocked shelves cut back on purchases from Champagne makers including Laurent Perrier, Remy Cointreau, Vranken Monopole and industry giant LVMH.
Exports are also doing well this year, up 14 per cent to date compared with a year ago, but CIVC managing director Andre Enders cautioned that consumption was not keeping pace.
"There is a tendency to deliver more than is being consumed, which is just over 5 per cent," he said.
Britain is the world's biggest Champagne importer, followed by the United States and Germany.
Enders said the Champagne region was concerned about the possibility of war in Iraq, which could leave it with another round of oversupply. Sales to airlines, hotels and at duty free stores would all be hurt.
The CIVC is still battling to protect the Champagne appellation, specific to the sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region in northern France, from unauthorised use and from the danger of counterfeit production.
Bruno Paillard, the CIVC's communications director, estimated that three to four times as much "false Champagne" as the real product was sold in the United States alone, depriving France's Champagne area of up to $200 million to $300 million in revenues a year and the equivalent of 2,000 jobs.
Growers in the chalky Champagne region are allowed to cultivate only the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes and must comply with strict production rules. Their vineyards cover 3 per cent of France's wine-growing terrain.
China and the United States are particular culprits in misusing the Champagne name, Paillard said.