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Champagne Region Set to Expand

French wine regulator votes to allow new vineyard plantings outside of the current demarcated area for sparkling-wine grapes

Jacob Gaffney
Posted: March 14, 2008

More corks will be popping in the not-too-distant future. The Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO), the organization that regulates France's appellation system, has approved a proposal allowing for the expansion of the Champagne region. The sparkling-wine region will add close to 40 new grapegrowing areas, for a total 357 communes.

"The champagne district couldn't have taken a more coherent decision," said Jean-Marie Barillère , director of Champagne house Moët Hennessy. "[It's] an opportunity for developing both our business and the global quality of our wines."

According to the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the trade organization that represents Champagne houses and growers, the new borders will add nearly 2,500 more acres of vineyard land. Champagne is currently 84,016 acres in size, with the final few hundred acres still left for grape vines currently being planted. The new extensions, however, still require signing off by France's federal government after a review process that may take up to a year.

"As of today, nothing is completely decided," said Daniel Lorson, communications director for the CIVC. "This is part of a quality investigation that began in 2003 and we'll still want to review every plot and every parcel before vines go into the ground."

The yearlong period leading up to final approval promises to be intensely political among the region's growers, the CIVC and the federal government. Growers who are included inside the region's new boundaries stand to see their land values skyrocket (current prices for planted land are about $750,000 per acre), while those on the other side of the fence will miss out on the windfall. Furthermore, some claim that expansion of the region will lead to wine quality becoming compromised. Larger, corporate producers worry about the need to increase supply and to satisfy growing demand in new markets and, of course, continue to increase profits. Worldwide exports of Champagne have risen by more than 7 percent since 2006, due largely to growth in emerging wine markets such as China, India and Russia.

But Barillère sees wine quality rising over the long term. "Some parcels of average quality may lose their ability to produce grapes. [With] others (better location or soil or climate, may win a right to produce), the average quality of the Champagne wines will increase," he said. "It is just good news...more grapes of better quality."

Assuming the expansion is approved, however, new plantings will be finished by 2015, Lorson said. "So, there won't be extra wine available until 2020, 2021, maybe 2022." Lorson also clarified that the ruling is the end of the first stage of Champagne's expansion plans, the first such proposition since the area was first delineated in 1927.

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