France to make more champagne

France's champagne makers have agreed to harvest more grapes from 2007 and to plant new vines to head off possible shortages amid growing demand from outside Europe.

by: Reuters: Nick Antonovics | 19 Apr 2007

Paul-Francois Vranken, chairman of Vranken-Pommery Monopole, said there was no agreement yet on how much extra land to cultivate and new vines were unlikely to be planted until at least 2012.

France's champagne makers sold an estimated 322 million bottles of bubbly in 2006 and harvested enough grapes to produce 360 million bottles in two years' time once the wine has matured.

But with more and more producers seeking to make prestige wines, which take longer to mature, and a weak harvest in 2003, there has been growing pressure on stocks and grape prices.

Production in champagne is limited by an 80-year-old law to 34,000 hectares of land or "terroir", not all of which can be farmed, and 32,400 hectares is already being cultivated.

"We are in the process, within champagne, of studying the possibility of replanting vines from 2012," Vranken told a news conference on his company's 2006 results. He noted this meant output from any new vines would not start until at least 2016.

"From this year the ceiling on production will also rise to 15,500 kg per hectare from 13,000," he added.

"We will enlarge. The decision has been taken. We just don't agree on the number of hectares. In my view it would be dangerous to grow by more than 10 to 12 percent," he said.

A spokesman for CIVC, the champagne wine growers' association, confirmed the decision to raise the maximum possible harvest had been taken in principle, pending a ruling in the coming weeks by France's constitutional council.

"This provides us with a solution until a decision is taken on raising production," he said.

"It will allow us to harvest more in good years, when the quality allows, so we can cope with the risk that there will be years when we are in deficit."

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