France's booming Champagne region set for expansion

14th March 2008, Comments 0 comments

As champagne sales pop record highs, a top body is set to issue a ruling on Thursday extending the champagne-growing area.

   REIMS, France, March 14, 2008 - As champagne sales pop record highs,
a top body is set to issue a ruling on Thursday extending the
champagne-growing area to take in 40 villages that will be cashing in on the
   Like other French wines, champagne-labelled bottles are produced only from
grapes nurtured in a specially-designated region -- in this case 319 villages
spread out across 33,500 hectares (83,000 acres) of land in northeast France.
   The INAO institute which decides the boundaries of the geographic area
entitled to produce under the coveted Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC)
label is to meet in Paris later Thursday to decide on the historic expansion.
   Wine experts from the INAO have since March 2006 been working on a list of
villages that could join the AOC champagne-producing area based on a series of
criteria, in particular soil quality.
   "If your vines fall on the wrong side of the divide, they will be worth
5,000 euros a hectare," said Gilles Flutet who is in charge of demarcation at
INAO. "On the other side they will be worth a million euros."
   The decision will require the endorsement of the state council, France's
highest administrative body, which is expected to issue a decree in 2009.
   That ruling will then set off a lengthy process of new INAO studies to
delimit plots and award planting rights, with consumers not expected to taste
the new AOC champagne wines before some 10 years.
   Worldwide exports of champagne hit an all-time record in 2007, spurred by
booming demand in Asia and Russia, where newly-affluent consumers are cracking open the bubbly.
   Champagne producers exported 150 million bottles last year, a 7.3-percent
jump from 2006, in addition to 188 million guzzled at home, according to the
Interprofessional Champagne Wine Committee (CIVC), an industry group.
   Outside France, Britain was the biggest champagne drinker while sales in
Russia jumped 41 percent. Exports to China soared 30 percent, a nine-fold
increase in five years.
   Asia now accounts for nine percent of all champagne exports, but the
drink's core market remains the European Union.
   Whereas the broader French wine industry has suffered in recent years from
overproduction, champagne is produced in limited quantities.
   The 33,500 hectares of vineyard dedicated to champagne production, all in
the Reims region, pale in comparison to the 120,000 hectares cultivated for
   The president of the SGV Champagne producers trade group, Patrick Le Brun,
said the decision will put an end to attempts by separate vineyards to force
their way into AOC territory through the courts.
   "In the medium term, the court cases risked tarnishing the credibility of
the AOC label and the specificity of our product," said Le Brun.
   In 1995, the town of Fontenay-sur-Ay set a precedent when it won the right
to plant 30 hectares of grapes for champagne production after 13 years of
legal battles.
   "It's really a matter of ensuring that champagne production can face the
challenge of growth by preserving its specificity," said Daniel Lorson, from
the CIVC.


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