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Champagne boss calls for massive cut in yields

A senior Champagne boss has called for yields to be slashed for the 2009 harvest.

Paul-François Vranken, head of Vranken-Pommery Monopole – one of the three biggest Champagne houses – has called for yields in Champagne to be cut to between 7,500 and 9,600kg per hectare.

This would represent a 50% reduction in production compared with the two previous harvests of 2007 and 2008.

In those years just under 400m bottles were produced in Champagne. The vast majority of this wine is still sitting – unsold – in cellars in Champagne.

The maximum yield in Champagne is usually decided in early August each year, just before the harvest starts, by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) after discussions between growers and the major houses.

Many producer CEOs may agree with Vranken, but since growers’ income relies on selling grapes, which are rapidly falling in price, it remains to be seen if the growers can be persuaded to agree to halving their own incomes.

And this debate is likely to hot up as sales have dropped dramatically in the first quarter of 2009.

Domestic sales were down by a third (29.3%) in the first eight weeks of 2009, while their European exports dropped by nearly half (47.7%).

Exports to countries outside Europe – like Japan and the USA – were down 43.1%.

This trend appears to be accelerating: the French domestic market in February alone was down 35.4% or 1.9m bottles.

Written by Giles Fallowfield

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