- Despite economic crises, the Comité Champagne announced record sales.
- Export to the US rose by 69.3%. Nevertheless, the demand cannot always be met.
- IWSR Drinks Market Analysis sees the increased demand as a part of a long-term trend towards sparkling wine consumption. It is driven by younger drinkers.
- Prosecco (+25%) sales are also rising. And Cava is also benefiting from the general trend, albeit at a much slower pace (+0.17% compared to the 2017 high).
- Even UK sparkling benefits in its niche, even if it is mostly drunk at home. 96% of bottles never leave the British Isles.
- Changes are also evident on the secondary market. Champage is increasingly collected. As a consequence, the price index has climbed 51.3%.
It’s a collision of events that few could have predicted: We’re sandwiched between a global pandemic and a potential economic crisis, and yet we can’t stop drinking Champagne. In January the Comité Champagne, the organization representing independent Champagne producers and houses, announced that the region had achieved record sales of 322m bottles in 2021. This year the number could be even higher. In the first half of 2022, Champagne sales are already up 13.8% compared to the same period in 2021.
The US has proved to be a particularly thirsty market. Last year, exports rose by a staggering 69.3%. “We are proud to say that not only did Champagne shipments to the United States rebound last year, but the United States led all countries in shipment volume for the first time in decades”, revealed Jennifer Hall, director of the Champagne Bureau USA via a press release.
These are generous export volumes, yet reports from some retailers suggest that it still isn’t enough to satisfy demand. Alessandra Esteves is Co-founder of 305 Wines, a Miami-based online retailer. She also heads up Miami Champagne Week, a week-long series of events focused on the famous French bubbles. This year, tickets, which carry price tags of up to $480 per head, sold out within 24 hours. “It shows the rising interest in Champagne, as well as the success of events throughout the years”, she says.
“There are certain famous, high-production Champagnes that you can no longer buy in the state of Florida as an independent retailer.”
Despite having access to an affluent and engaged client base, Esteves can’t always source enough stock. “There are certain famous, high-production Champagnes that you can no longer buy in the state of Florida as an independent retailer”, she says, sharing an anecdote from last year’s Champagne week that illustrates the scale of the problem. One well-known brand was so keen to be represented that they sent swag – branded cups, ice buckets, model bottles – for the event. But they couldn’t sell her a single drop of wine to fill them.
Increased Demand as a Long-term Trend
Daniel Mettyear, Head of Research, EMEA, at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, sees the increased demand as a part of a long-term trend towards sparkling wine consumption: “Sparkling wine has been enjoying a sustained period of long-term growth over a number of years, driven in large part by a shift away from exclusively celebratory occasions, towards more everyday consumption”, he says. He points out that the pandemic accelerated this in some markets: “As celebrations were stifled, opportunities for casual day-to-day consumption were vastly increased”, he says.
There is also evidence that the trend is being driven by younger drinkers. Research by Wine Intelligence found that half of sparkling wine drinkers in the USA are under 40 years old. In contrast, only 30% of still wine drinkers come from the same age group. The report suggests several reasons for this. One is that social gatherings have taken on a more celebratory tone post-pandemic. Another is that fizz is easy to understand: “Sparkling wine offers easily-grasped categories, with delineated price brackets which make choices relatively easy: is it a Prosecco occasion or a Champagne occasion?”, the report says.
Rising Sales of Prosecco - and Other Sparkling Wines
Champagne is not the only sparkling wine category to benefit from these shifting preferences. Prosecco sales have enjoyed well-documented success, including a 25% bump to a whopping 627.5m bottles worldwide in 2021. Cava has seen a steadier increase. While 2021 export volumes are higher than in any of the previous ten years, they are just 0.17% above the second highest year, 2017.
Ian Downey, Executive Vice President of Winebow Imports, one of the leading importers in the USA, notes growth in categories including Cremant de Bourgogne, Franciacorta, and even sparkling wine from Tasmania. The company also carries more niche sparkling wines, including sparkling Grüner Veltliner from Austria and sparkling Lugana. “Diversity within our sparkling offerings has been important for helping us to reach a bubble-thirsty consumer base”, he says, referring to high demand for the category.
Increasing Success of UK Products
The UK has also seen increasing success as a sparkling wine producer. A report published this month by WineGB, the trade body representing wineries in England and Wales, was optimistic. It found a 69% increase in sales from 2019 to 2021. And there is still room for growth. “Current market share of English wine is still very small”, points out Brandon Barnham, Sales Manager at Ridgeview Estate in Sussex. “There is still a huge opportunity in the UK market.”
Sales of English and Welsh sparkling wine remain concentrated in the domestic market, however. 96% of bottles never leave the British Isles, and many of those that do only travel as far as Scandinavia. “There is significant opportunity in export, but it will require investment in time, education and resource, and more importantly a collaborative approach across the industry to encourage success”, says Barnham. Esteves’s experience of selling English sparkling in Florida is consistent with this: “It still needs a hand sell”, she says.
“Champagne and Prosecco remain the principal trending elements within the category, albeit at different price points.”
Mettyear of the IWSR puts it into perspective. He acknowledges rising interest in categories like English Sparkling and Cremant but concludes that they “are ultimately niche in comparison to Champagne and Prosecco, which remain the principal trending elements within the category, albeit at different price points”.
In the Spotlight on Liv-ex
On the secondary market, Champagne has also been in the spotlight. Its share of trade on global trading platform Liv-ex hit a record high of 16.7% by value in July. Its share five years ago, in 2017, was just 6%. Prices have also been on the rise. In the past 12 months, the region’s price index has climbed 51.3%, outpacing all others including Burgundy, which has been the darling of the fine wine investment market in recent years.
“Champagne has joined the mainstream for fine wine collectors who have an eye on both drinking and returns”, says Liv-ex co-founder Justin Gibbs. He points out that 20 years ago, most cellars were filled with Bordeaux while Champagne was bought for drinking, not collecting: “Now, instead of buying one case at Christmas for drinking, collectors are buying five and holding some. It’s portfolio diversification; spreading your bets a bit”, he says. Although an increasingly broad range of Champagnes are now being collected – not exclusively the most famous names – interest has not expanded far beyond the classic region. “We’re not stepping into Prosecco”, he says.
How to Keep up With Orders?
With demand at a high, one happy challenge faced by some producers is to keep up with orders. Higher yield restrictions might help. The Comité Champagne has increased maximum yields to 12,000kg/ha for the 2022 harvest, the highest since 2007. Cava DO has increased its limit to the same level, up from 11,000kg/ha last year.
But for now, producers remain under pressure. “Demand has been very strong since 2021 and we see no change in that pattern. All our cuvees are on allocation, with more demand than we have supply”, says Mathieu Roland-Billecart, CEO of Champagne Billecart-Salmon (not the house referenced by Esteves). He suggests that rationing is necessary to protect stock levels and ensure that quality is not diluted. “We remain prudent, however, as economic and demand cycles come and go”, he adds.
Others have also questioned whether high demand will continue in the current economic climate. “The onset of inflation and cost of living pressures are likely to dampen demand for sparkling wine as a whole,” says the IWSR’s Mettyear. “But it’s unclear to what extent. After Covid, consumers in some markets are showing themselves to be more averse to relinquishing social and leisure time.” So, quite likely, the party will go on – even if the volume is turned down a little. This might have been difficult to predict, but with sparkling wine – and Champagne in particular – finding new occasions for enjoyment, it’s not hard to understand.