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Champagne: radical new harvest rules

Champagne's revolutionary new rules to deciding the yield for the 2009 harvest will mean over 40% less Champagne will be produced this year.

This is an attempt to satisfy the demands of the major houses by not adding further excess to already high stocks, and preserving prices.

At the same time it guarantees an acceptable level of income for the growers.

With growers calling for a minimum 10,400 kilos per hectare yield, and the Champagne houses demanding 7,500kg/ha, a compromise has been reached.

The basic yield has been set at 8,000kg/ha (equivalent to around 230m bottles) but the growers will be allowed to pick up to 9,700kg/ha.

The average yield last year was 14,200kg/ha, which produced 405m bottles- meaning this year there will be a drop of 44% in bottles produced.

As part of the deal, Champagne houses will only have to pay for the 8,000kg/ha of grapes in the usual quarterly payments over the 12 months after the harvest.

But they will also pay the growers for the additional 1,700kg/ha in the November of the following year.

The houses are only allowed to bottle the 8,000kg/ha, while the extra 1,700kg/ha remains declassified until the October of the following year.

However, growers, which own over 90% of the vineyards in Champagne, will be allowed to bottle the full yield of 9,700kg/ha immediately after the harvest.

Ghislain de Montgolfier, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC), said, ‘It is the first time we have separated the quantities the growers and the negociants can pick.’

Patrick Le Brun, president of the Syndicat général des vignerons (SGV), the main growers’ union said he considered it a good solution.

‘It is the least bad agreement, faced with the demand from some of the houses that the maximum yield should be restricted to just 7,500kg/ha.’

It remains to be seen whether the price paid for grapes will fall from the high level of 2008, when the average across the appellation reached €5.35 per kilo, up from €5.05/kg in 2007.

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Written by Giles Fallowfield

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