By: George Balling
News is starting to emerge of a potential Champagne shortage right as the most sparkling time of the year approaches. Even idle talk of a bubbly shortage is enough to get our collective attention, at least those wine consumers who love the bubbles. The pending shortage if it does materialize though can be broken down to a few key issues we have all become familiar with recently.
The manufacturing of Champagne itself has not been affected. In fact, from 2015 through 2020 the vintages in the Champagne region have been very good to outstanding. Crop size has been large and ample amounts of bubbly have been produced. The 2021 vintage is a far different story as Europe had a disastrous growing year, but there is plenty of wine from the previous 6 vintages to meet demand.
The biggest real shortages so far are in the 187ml bottlings of bubbly. The smallest of formats are popular with consumers as they are the closest thing to a single serve. The issue here is supply of the small bottles and the plastic twist cap closures for them that have the profile of a Champagne cork. The packaging shortage is affecting the small bottle all over the world in every appellation. While the shortage of bottles and bottle caps is primarily due to a lack of manufactured products, shipping is also as issue. It turns out most are manufactured in China and the global slow down in processing of container ships in ports everywhere has slowed the flow of glass even more. Sadly, we have no reliable information on when supply of 187ml bottles might improve and the wineries will be able to package their wine in this size.
For certain Champagne wineries in France, it turns out this lack of glass bottles is also affecting their supply of 750ml bottles. Whether it be for Champagne or still wine there is not standard bottle shape. Taller or shorter, broader at the base or narrower, a gently slope “shoulder” or a more drastic profile, even a thinner or wider bottle opening all are variables that a winery chooses in their bottles. Certain bottle manufacturers are simply out of stock on bottles right now or they can’t get them to the wineries just like the 187ml packages, all resulting in specific Champagne houses not having product in the market now.
Most of the Champagne comes into the US from ports located along the Eastern Seaboard, most notably located in New Jersey. While the slow down in processing containers through ports in Southern California have been tough, the situation in New Jersey is running a close second when it comes to delays. For European wines in general and specifically Champagne we have heard countless stories of long delays just getting the ships to port and the containers off the ships.
Our Champagne then encounters the shortage in truck drivers to transport the wine across the country and the delays have started to build on each other.
For wine consumers here is what we know. 187ml Bottlings will continue to be tough to come by, there are just too many outages to fix this problem probably until midyear 2022. For the standard 750ml bottlings from Champagne what you will likely see is that certain “brands” will simply not be available. For instance, we received great news on Taittinger this week that our local distributor received a good size shipment to their Idaho warehouse. Based on what they have told us there should be plenty to carry us through the holidays.
On one of our other very popular higher end Champagnes, Billecart-Salmon we will only be receiving one more case this year! Our local distributor was able to secure this case for us from the importer however after that “box” the importer is out of the wine and is not projecting to have any additional prior to the spring of 2022.
The number of good news, bad news examples like this are endless right now. For every Champagne we can’t get any more of there is another we will see ample supply of. If you are flexible in the brand you like to drink you will find good supplies of Champagne, there will be choices just not as many as you may be used to, and some of your favorites may not be available. Stop by the shop and we can help you find great Champagne or other sparkling wine that will be as delicious as your favorite.