Sales of Champagne dropped by nearly 5% in 2008 – and producers have welcomed the downturn.

After seven years of continued growth, a drop in sales of 4.8% in volume to 322m has been applauded as an opportunity to alleviate stock pressure.

Champagne shipments to the UK were down over 12% in the first 10 months of 2008.

Exports to all European countries were down 18.6% for the same period.

Figures for the UK off-trade – supermarkets and off-licences – were the worst for 15 years, according to ACNielsen.

Ghislain de Montgolfier, co-president of Champagne trade body the CIVC, said continuous growth and a record year in 2008 were ‘too much’ for the region.

‘The fall is a good thing: our purpose was to decrease sales by 2% at the start of 2008. Hopefully grape growers can stop increasing their prices and Champagne pricing will be more stable,’ he added.

In 2008 Champagne prices increased and it is estimated sales value will be close to the 2007 figure of €4.5bn despite the fall in volume.

The major houses were hardest hit, recording a drop of 6.7% in 2008 compared to 2007.

The CIVC claimed the houses with a strong position in the UK and US markets had suffered most.

The CIVC shied away from making predictions for the coming year. ‘We have no idea about 2009. Even the big bankers don’t have forecasts for the coming year,’ said Montgolfier.

Written by Rebecca Gibb, and Giles Fallowfield