A Champagne shortage is threatening to make New Year's Eve a little less bubbly for revelers across the globe this year. Due to supply chain issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. importers have been uncertain about what to order months in advance. That, coupled with fluctuations in demand and shipping hiccups could mean a fizz shortage for years to come.
According to Beverage Industry Enthusiast, Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the trade organization for the Champagne region, sets Champagne production limits every year. In 2020, they set that limit at about 25% less than it was in 2019.
"Indeed, there are any number of reports that many top Champagne brands and the Champagne category as a whole are experiencing shortages," Alexander Michas, president and COO of VINTUS, an importer, told TODAY Food via email. He said he began to see the effects last year with Bollinger. A dip in sales at the height of the pandemic then turned into record sales.
"During lockdown clearly consumers decided that a premium bottle of Champagne was a reasonable purchase given the savings from dining out, travel and, well, everything," he said. "In addition, Champagne’s governing authorities limited yields in 2020 and that shortage now has to be accounted for during the aging and release process for the coming years."
Michas said global shipping issues have meant that sometimes some wines have not been available because of delayed arrivals and that there will certainly be shortages of the leading producers. If they are available, there will not be the quantity that consumers want from their restaurants, bars and stores. "These vendors will have to, as we have already seen, offer alternative sparkling wines," he said.
Overall, Michas said he's seen sales of Champagne booming like never before.
"By April of this year Bollinger told us that they had to start placing limits on our orders, and within a few months we had no more available for the rest of the year." Given the long aging process at Bollinger which is an average of 7-8 years for their non-vintage Special Cuvee, and up to 15 years for their vintage Champagnes, there is simply no way to produce more on demand. "Retail was obviously driving the demand early on, but the Champagne orders since restaurants started re-opening have also been surprising," he said.
Ariel Arce, owner of Air’s Champagne Parlor in New York City, said that although she's seen a shortage with some producers, it's mainly the big brands and that there are more small producers imported every year. "We can fulfill demand for those not tied to a label," she said.
Arce explained that while it does seem that we can get less of Champagnes we love, the upside is that drinkers can now start exploring some other producers. "Frankly, those are now less expensive because prestige demand hasn’t been created for them yet, so we can supply a customer that is just starting to fall in love with the region and not jaded by producers or brands."
She said she saw more people drinking Champagne during the pandemic, most likely because people were just drinking more in general.
"They didn’t have anything to spend their money on so naturally they started to go down the bad habit rabbit hole of Champagne," she said. "It’s an expensive obsession, you know."
In response to the shortage, Arce said she's drinking less, but higher quality.
"When it’s hard to get your hands on some wines you want to save them for nice occasions," she said. Her top picks are "Cedric Bouchard anything, Dhondt Grellet Cramant, Etienne Calsac Les Revenants, an older Grand Cuvée of Krug 166 or later."
"But if I’m popping bottles in succession, it will be Huré Frères Rose, Guiborat Tethys or Pierre Gerbais Grain de Celles," she said.
"We were able to order a quantity of a boutique Champagne producer we work with, Ayala, before their sales started to rocket," Michas said regarding alternatives to hard-to-find bottles. "Their Blanc de Blancs may be hard to find right now, but their Brut Majeur is an outstanding Champagne and typically under $45."
Other sparkling wines Michas recommends include Iron Horse, "one of the legendary pioneers of California sparkling wine has some remaining availability, but it’s pretty limited."
"I’d point to Juve & Camps Reserva de la Familia – an outstanding cava, so made according to the Champagne method, all estate grown, organically farmed, and with no dosage, which is added sugar," he said. "It's tremendous quality and outrageous value at under $25 a bottle."
But not everyone is feeling the pinch.
"I have no issues with quantities of Champagne for this season for two reasons," Laurent Chapuis, owner of Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop, told TODAY. "I placed my orders early summer and I work with small high quality family growers that can sell their Champagne only through knowledgeable wine merchants."
Everyone should be able to find a bottle to pop at midnight, it just may not be the one you're used to — and according to Arce, that's not such a bad thing. No matter what type of bubbly you find, she said don't reserve opening a bottle for just one night of the year.
"Drinking champagne just for New Year's Eve means you left 364 days on the table to not drink Champagne and that’s a damn shame," she said. "Choose the life you want to lead, drink with style and don’t be afraid to be special."