Many industries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. With such little to celebrate these days, the pandemic apparently has led to a “catastrophe” for the Champagne industry. Champagne sales have fizzled out, and the future is uncertain.
“COVID has left everything reeling,” Bernard Beaulieu, a Champagne producer and former head of the CGT Champagne winegrowers union, told BBC News.
Experts estimate the Champagne region of France has lost approximately $2 billion in sales in 2020, and they believe about 100 million bottles will remain unsold by the end of the year.
“We are experiencing a crisis that we evaluate to be even worse than the Great Depression,” Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Champagne Committee (CIVC), told the Associated Press.
The CIVC represents roughly 16,000 winemakers, and it’s responsible for organizing and controlling the production and distribution of Champagne. The committee plans to restrict the grape yield in 2020 to keep prices from spiraling downward, but there is contention over how low to keep the yield. Vast amounts of grapes will be destroyed or sold at deep discounts, which is worrying smaller vineyards as they are more likely to suffer from serious financial setbacks than the big producers.
Other wine-producing regions have attempted to find alternate uses for their grapes, like using them for hand sanitizer (it’s worth noting that the wine industry is also struggling to stay afloat). But some in the champagne industry are offended at this notion. Anselme Selosse, of Jacques Selosse Champagnes, said it was “an insult to nature” that Champagne grapes might be used for other purposes.
“We are to destroy [the grapes] and we pay for them to be destroyed,” Selosse told the Associated Press. “It’s nothing but a catastrophe.”
“Champagne has never lived through anything like this before, even in the World Wars,” Selosse added. “We have never experienced […] a sudden one-third fall in sales. Over one hundred million bottles unsold.”
Other producers don’t see a clear way out, and they worry that Champagne sales could suffer for years until a COVID-19 vaccine is found.
Now, the Champagne industry is due for a rebranding, and producers are aiming to market the bubbly as simply a delicious, quality wine with no celebration required.
“Even if the bars and the nightclubs are closed for five years, we don’t plan on missing out on customers,” Paul-Francois Vranken, founder of Vranken-Pommery Monopole, said. “There will be a very big change to our marketing that highlights the grandeur of our wines.”