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Champagne boss warns growers on grape stocks

Published:  23 July, 2008

by Giles Fallowfield
Yves Bnard, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC), has warned growers and cooperatives in Champagne that their action in holding onto 50% more grapes than they need to replace their annual sales is threatening the stability of the market.

Bnard criticised growers and cooperatives for retaining the equivalent of 156m bottles, while their combined sales were only 102m bottles. Houses, meanwhile, had been able to purchase only enough grapes to put 204m bottles in their cellars, while they have sold around 215m bottles.

During the speech, made to an audience of growers at the general assembly of the Association Viticole Champenoise (AVC) in the last week of November, Bnard also expressed worries as to what would happen - given that the houses were 5% short of the material needed to replace their sales (let alone plan for any increase) - when the vins clairs market opened on 1 December. He thought this might lead to prices inflating by 15-20% on top of already record high grape prices.

It appears Bnard's fears were well grounded. In the first week of trading vins clairs, one well-known house reports being offered a price of €950 per hectolitre (hl) by a cooperative, compared to the €800/hl equivalent they paid for grapes of the same quality immediately after the harvest - an 18.75% increase in price. Even though the house in question needs more material they refused to pay this inflated price.

In the UK market, the Champagne price war between Tesco and Sainsbury's has been hotting up with Tesco immediately copying Sainsbury's week-long deal of a 25% reduction on all wines including Champagne (28 Nov-2 Dec). At Sainsbury's, where there were already deals on six brands, the single bottle price of Heidsieck Monopole, Canard-Duchne and Nicolas Feuillatte dropped to just 11.24, while Piper Heidsieck was down to 12.74 and Laurent-Perrier dropped to 15.74. At Tesco (29 Nov-5 Dec), Andr Carpentier, already on half-price deal at 9.99 came down to just 7.49 a bottle, while Jacquart, Heidsieck Monopole, and Nicolas Feuillatte all dropped to 11.24, exactly the same price as at Sainsbury's.

Last week, Sainsbury's introduced its own half-price deal in store with Antoine de Clevecy supplied by Alliance, who also supply Andr Carpentier to Tesco, down from a lofty 22.49 to 11.49. But Tesco came back with a vengeance on 7 December, slashing the price of market-leading brand Mot & Chandon from 23.94 to 15.14.