Champagne prices climb in US

Worldwide demand and the weak US dollar are driving Champagne prices higher than ever, US merchants say.

Some retailers predict that higher prices will lead to a boom in less expensive Champagnes.

As non-vintage brut prices reach between US$40 and US$50, ‘that starts getting into steep territory for the average consumer,’ said Doug Rosen of Arrow Wine in Arlington Virginia.

‘As they become more expensive, you are going to see some consumer backlash and less expensive grower Champagnes will become much more viable alternatives.’

‘The writing is on the wall,’ warned Gary Wesby, Champagne buyer for top California wine retailer K&L Wine Merchants.

He told that some customers had ‘taken a serious position on Champagne’ in anticipation of price rises. One French customer had bought ‘a significant quantity of Cristal in magnums’ to take back with him.

He added, ‘Two of my best Champagne customers are very serious tasters with financial backgrounds. They bought a lot of Champagne this year [expecting prices to go up]. Many other customers have come this year to buy a lot more than they normally do.’

Price increases this year vary between 5-10% for basic brand name bruts like Moet, Wesby said, but especially for top cuvees. ‘We obtained a small release of the Krug 1996 which we were able to sell for US$269 per bottle. Now they raised the price on us again, with less wine available, and we are selling it for US$299.

A weak dollar alone does not explain price increases: some 400m bottles of Champagne were sold in 2007, according to figures released in the Belgian daily De Morgen. The previous sales record of 327m was reached in 1999.

Increased worldwide demand, from traditional and more recent markets like Russia and China, is such that 40 new communes will soon have the right to release Champagne appellation wines (see Related Stories above).

Written by Panos Kakaviatos