PARIS – Europeans are finding fewer reasons to pop open a bottle of Champagne as another year of economic troubles and high unemployment saps the region’s appetite for the finer things. But while the latest industry figures show that sales might be on the wane in Europe, other markets, particularly Japan and the United States, are developing a taste for a glass of bubbly.
In what is certain to be bad news for the vineyards, France – Champagne’s largest market – is drinking fewer bottles. Sales of Champagne for the country were down 4.9 percent, and 5 percent elsewhere in the 27-country European Union, in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, according to CIVC, the national association of growers and producers of the wine.
Nineteen months of rising unemployment and growing fears that the worst is yet to come have taken their toll on France – nearly seven in 10 French are worried about their country’s future, according to a recent poll.
“The French are pessimist by nature,” said Antoine Chiquet, whose family has been producing Champagne for three generations and wine for eight. “We had a difficult election, we’re in an economy where Europe’s foundations are being questioned.”
But CIVC figures show export sales were up 3 percent in the first three quarters of the year. Top markets included the U.S., Japan and, to a lesser extent, China. A total of 19.4 million bottles of Champagne went to the United States and 7.9 million went to Japan – the only two countries outside Europe in the top seven export markets.
Takayasu Ogata, a Tokyo-based sommelier, said Champagne and sparkling wine consumption is climbing in Japan at a time when overall wine demand peaked about 2000. According to the French figures, Champagne consumption alone was up nearly 7 percent over a year there.
Beer remains the drink of choice for many “salarymen,” but younger people and women are taking a liking to Champagne, Ogata says.
“It’s about the bubble – a sense of gorgeousness,” he said in a telephone interview. “There’s that thrill to opening up a bottle of Champagne.”