The Champagne shortage in Australia is something that has been regularly making headlines since it was first reported in June 2021, but as the Champagne Bureau has explained to The Shout there have been regular inaccuracies about the cause of the problem.

The most common causes that are reported are that Australians have been drinking too much expensive Champagne during the pandemic and supplies will soon runout; that changes to the 2020 harvest mean there is less Champagne in Australia and that bad weather and “bad decisions” by the CIVC has caused Champagne production to stop.

Right now, the demand for Champagne in Australia is incredibly high, and the Bureau told The Shout that the strength of the Australian Champagne market is being spoken about all over the Champagne region. The continued growth of Champagne sales in Australia has highlighted to the region that Australians understand that Champagne is not just a wine for good times and celebrations, “but brings us joy when the times are tough”.

“Champagne sales have continued to be incredibly strong throughout 2020 and 2021 and many Champagne distributors and retailers have spoken about the last two ‘very successful’ years for Champagne sales,” the Bureau said.

There are a number of reasons behind the strong sales, including:

Education: Australian consumers are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about wine, and quality wines and this has seen an increase in the appreciation of the quality and taste that Champagne delivers.

Perception: Leading on from education is the change in perception around when you drink Champagne, in Australia the wine is no longer seen as just an aperitif or celebration wine, but something that can be enjoyed any day or night of the week – and it does also bring the feel-good factor.

Online: This is one way that consumers are becoming more educated, they are doing more research and taking more time with their online purchases. Retailers and importers are reporting significant upswings in their online sales and consumers are researching Champagne’s brands and the flavour profiles and picking wines based on what they want to try, rather than just the one they always pick.

History: This is hugely important in the Australian market – Champagne has been coming to Australia for 200 years and Australia is a hugely important market to Champagne’s growers and houses. Champagne also fits into the Australian lifestyle and is ingrained in Australian culture.

The Champagne shortage, along with the shortages of many of the items we import into Australia appear to be the result of a number of complicated issues – mostly relating to global and domestic supply chains. There are a number of factors at play here and while the chaos that the pandemic wrought on the global markets did see Champagne exports decline significantly in 2020, down 17.9 per cent on 2019, Australia was one of the only markets in the world to show significant growth, a fact not lost on the region.

“Throughout 2021, the monthly export indicators show that Champagne exports to Australia have not slowed down, but the exact opposite,” the Champagne Bureau said.

“Comité Champagne has described the really strong sales of Champagne in Australia as ‘astonishing’ and the continued strength of the Australian market has given the whole of the Champagne region the confidence to believe that international market for Champagne will rebound after the disaster of the last few years, and early indicators are that it has.”

So are Australians paying the price for drinking too much Champagne?

Far from it, while there was contraction in many global markets figures show that exports of Champagne to Australia in 2020 increased by over 11.2 per cent. The region has welcomed what Australians have done and responded accordingly with more exports. And as for reports Champagne will soon run out, total global exports of Champagne are expected to reach approximately 300 million bottles this year and there are about 1.2-1.4 billion bottles of Champagne currently ageing in the cellars of Champagne for release in the years to come.

Earlier this month ABC Rural reported “Last year (2020) the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC), a committee that determines how much champagne is produced each year, slashed production as the world grappled with lockdowns. It declared the maximum permitted grape yield at 8,000 kilograms per hectare — producing nearly 230 million bottles — down from the 10,000kg/ha declared in 2019.”

The Champagne Bureau told The Shout: “There are a number of inaccuracies in this misleading statement and shows a lack of understanding of Champagne production. It is true that the grape yield was set at 8000kg/ha prior to the 2020 harvest, but the CIVC does not solely make these decisions. It is an interprofessional organisation that represents the growers, houses and cooperatives of the region and facilitates a robust meeting where these decisions are made by consensus.

“It is true that the total amount of Champagne produced from the grapes of this harvest will be small, but any Champagne ‘elaborated’ or created from the 2020 vintage will not be released until April 2022 at the earliest – and more than likely won’t arrive in Australia until the end of next year. To be clear, the Champagne wine from the 2020 harvest is not even ‘Champagne’ yet.

“It takes at least three years to make an individual bottle of Champagne; longer for vintage – and most Champagne producers will leave their bottles ageing in their cellars for much longer than the minimum requirement. The regulations state that a non-vintage Champagne must be aged for 15 months (minimum) in the bottle and for three years for vintage Champagne. This is so that the Champagne wines develop their unique characteristics through the ageing process in contact with the yeast ‘lees’ (this is referred to as autolysis).

“Many retailers are currently selling vintage Champagne (ie. a Champagne from one single year) with dates such as 2008, 2012, 2014 – so it is easy to see how long it takes to make a bottle of your favourite Champagne.

“Champagne production did not stop during 2020, or 2021 except for a few days during March 2020 – there will be no delay in producing Champagne from either of these years.”

As for the bad weather, COVID and panicked decisions being the cause of the problem, while true these have happened, these are not the cause of this current shortage.

In September the CIVC said that a 12-day period at the beginning of Spring, along with several bouts of hail, followed by persistent rain, which encouraged mildew had caused problems in the vineyards.

Overall, Champagne expects to lose close to 30 per cent of the yield on account of frost, to which must be added between 25 to 30 per cent loss due to mildew. Hail damaged 500 hectares, with half that area losing the whole crop.

But Champagne from the 2021 harvest will not arrive in Australia for at least three years

Champagne has also developed a system called the ‘Reserve’ where each grower is permitted to harvest an additional quantity of grapes above the set yield to keep as a reserve for these times of crisis. This protects the grower from many of the threats the environment will throw at them in any one year and ensures their livelihoods as well as the future supply of Champagne.

Champagne sales continue to grow in Australia and the region is doing everything it can to meet that growing demand, the shortage is a result of wider global supply issues and availability of shipping containers.

The good news is that despite the scaremongering, Australian Champagne consumers are not deterred and continue to buy Champagne.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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