Champagne sales lose fizz to virus

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(FILES) A file photo taken on May 6, 2019 shows a glass of champagne next to a bottle which label contains a QR code to guarantee its traceability in Epernay, eastern France, at the General Syndicate of Winegrowers of Champagne (SGV).Champagne sales fell of 18% in 2020 as a consequence of the Covid-19 epidemic. According to the Champagne Committee, which brings together producers and traders, 245 million bottles were sold worldwide during the year due to the closure of hotels, bars and restaurants and the decline in tourism in France in particular, indicated the organisation on January 26, 2021.

Champagne sales plunged last year as coronavirus lockdowns stymied tourism and shut bars, hotels and restaurants, its trade association said Tuesday.

Sales of the sparkling white wine fell by 18 percent to 245 million bottles worldwide, said the Comite Champagne that includes producers and distributors said.

"It was a dark year, but we managed the crisis by limiting output ... and the end result is better than we feared in July," said Jean-Marie Barillere, head of a union of champagne houses.

He estimated losses at around one billion euros ($1.2 billion) less than in 2019, but cautioned that the numbers had not yet been finalised.

It was the first time in 50 years that exports fared better than domestic sales, Barillere added.

"This health crisis is not like other crises," he said, before explaining that the drop in sales was not the result of falling consumer confidence in France for example.

Rather it was the loss of traditional outlets like bars and restaurants that had hurt the most.

Maxime Toubart, head of the main body of Champagne vintners, the SGV, added that in June they had anticipated a fall of 30 percent in sales, and hailed innovative efforts such as direct online sales for limiting the damage.

The sector decided in July to substantially limit production to support prices, and was able to maintain the product's value as a result.