Champagne makers fix harvest quotas as sales plummet during pandemic

A waitress serves a glass of champagne at La Grande Georgette restaurant in front of the cathedral in Reims, the Champagne region, east of Paris, Tuesday, July 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

French Champagne producers decided Tuesday to put unprecedented limits on the quantity of grapes they’ll harvest this year in hopes of propping up prices and containing damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result, record amounts of grapes may need to be destroyed or sold to distilleries at discounted prices. But for the Champagne Committee, the influential group that represents 16,000 vintners around France's Champagne region, that’s the price to pay for saving their luxury business.

Vintners in Champagne country will only be allowed to collectively harvest 8,000 kilograms of grapes per hectare this season, or the equivalent of 230 million bottles for the whole region, according to Tuesday’s decision. That is 21% less than the amounts allowed last year.

Like the organizations that coordinate policies for oil-producing countries, the Champagne Committee regulates the size of the grape harvest each year to avoid the kind of excess production that would cause bottle prices to plummet.

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But this year’s discussions took on unprecedented importance after the industry collectively lost $2 billion in sales because of virus lockdown measures.

The pandemic flattened the fizz for Champagne and the celebratory mood that drives the business: weddings were canceled, first-class flights grounded and restaurants and night clubs shuttered around the world.

Champagne revenues this year have already fallen by a third, a plunge unmatched in living memory. Producers expect about 100 million bottles to be languishing unsold in their cellars by the end of 2020, and some predict the crisis could last for years.

“Champagne, the wine of joie de vivre, of conviviality and celebration, is particularly affected by the global economic crisis linked to COVID-19,” the committee said in a statement announcing what it called unprecedented measures to limit the damage.