21 March, 2002

They want to "free the grapes"

Two famous gentlemen of Champagne with a mission. They want to free the grapes, they recently said to the local paper, l'Union.

The duo is Ghislain de Montgolfier, manager of the house of Bollinger, and Jean-Marie-Marie Barillère, Moët Hennessy, who have been chosen to be in charge of the association of champagne houses - l'Union des Maisons de Champagne - as chairman and deputy chairman.

Discussions about grapes
In Champagne the small winegrowers - like ourselves - own 90 percent of the vines. The champagnehouses own the last 10 percent. The houses however make and sell 70 percent of the champagnes. An arithmetical problem that comes out right, because many small growers sell some or all of their production to the houses.

It also implicates that the champagne houses don't controle a very big amount of the raw material they need. They depend on the winegrowers to produce good grapes. And this is where the quote of "setting the grapes free" begins to make sense:

"It is necessary to free the grapes. We ought to help the winegrowers to deliver enough grapes. Together we must find solutions, that will create value."

That is, the chairmen of the champagne houses want to secure their own deliveries. Which of course must be one of their most important jobs. Which wheel they want to turn in the delicate machineri of champagne production, is not revealed.

Insatiable market
Clearly in a time where the global market seems almost insatiable, a future fight about grapes and about the best grapes, may turn out hot. How can you expand if you cannot get hold of enough grapes? You cannot use grapes that have not been grown in Champagne. Which is why the grape prices now move close to or even pass five euros per kilo. A level, that before has led to crises in Champagne.

Personally we have felt the interest for our grapes in the new plot, we got last autumn - "Who buys them? Do you want to sell them to us?" - even Loisy-en-Brie is certainly not a wellknown name in Champagne. Grapes for champagne are still grapes for champagne, and even our grapes are not classified as Grand cru or Premier cru, they are what they should be, and what any champagne house needs.

The old boss of the champagne houses, Yves Bénard, left the organisation, as he earlier this year was named as new leader of the INAO department of alcoholic beverages.

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