According to the French newspaper L’Union, the price per KG of grapes in the region during the 2014 harvest reached an impressive 6.4 Euro/kg for Grand Crus villages.
The lowest prices for some of the “ordinary” Crus was 5.9 Euro/kg, which results in an impressive average of 6.15 €/kg.
The price of champagne grapes has been constantly on the rise in the last decade with a price in 2013, between 5,50 and 6,20 €/kg.
As a matter of comparison, according to Freixenet, (the world’s largest producer of non–champagne sparkling wines) the average price of grapes from the Penedes region in Catalonia used to produced Cava sparkling wine is about 0.8 €/kg.
It takes about 1.2kg of grapes to produce a standard (75cl) bottle of champagne, and 1.5kg for most of the best champagne houses that only use the so called “first press”, as Bruno Paillard, President of the champagne house Bruno Paillard and Chairman of Lanson-BCC the second largest group in Champagne explains.
“This year grape prices are increasing once again, but less than they did last year. In the less important Crus price per kg is about € 5.2 while in the best Grands Crus it reaches € 6.80 if not € 7” Paillard clarifies.
So a basic math exercise tells us that in a bottle of champagne we are drinking from 6 to 10 Euros worth of grapes, excluding all the other costs associated with the production of champagne.
So then, why are Champagne grapes so expensive?
According to Michel Drappier, President of the renown Drappier House in the Aube region: “Champagne grapes are expensive because it is more difficult to grow vineyards in the North of France than Penedes. Champagnes are extremely elegant wines but they are made in a region which yields a much lower output than Cava or Prosecco for example. The density per hectare ( 8,000 plants) is much higher than any other sparkling wine region on the planet, and requires a lot more labour.”
Let’s not forget that it is indeed a norther terroir, with its cool climate and chalky soil, that enables champagne to be the fine and elegant wines that they are.
Didier Depond, President of Salon, one of the most acclaimed and expensive champagne adds on that: “There are strict regulations in place in Champagne, including environmental regulations, that are unique to our region, to ensure high quality grapes and wines, that impact on the price of grapes.”
Charles Philipponnat, President of the connoisseur House Philipponnat that owns one of the most remarkable vineyard in the Champagne region, Clos Des Goisses, insists on this point: “The vast majority of Prosecco, for example, are not Protected Designation of Origin wines. Hence they do not have to follow very strict regulations as for champagne. There are indeed higher quality DOCG Prosecco but these remain a minority.”
Still, according to Veneto Agricultura, the Italian government agency from the region where Prosecco is produced, in 2013 the average price of the Glera grapes from the province of Treviso, used to produce DOCG Prosecco was just about 1.18 €/kg.
Market forces and economics also contribute to the high pricing, as Drappier explains: “Although Champagne grapes are expensive to produce, its rarity makes it even more costly. Demand is still higher than offer, so large (and wealthy) negociants (i.e. large Champagne Houses) accept to pay a little more every year to match their needs.”
Cecile Bonnefond, President of Piper-Heidsieck and of Charles Heidsieck, one of the oldest and largest Champagne Houses and the darling champagne of the Champenois confirms: “In Champagne we always strive for excellence and this starts first in the vineyard, where excellence comes at a price. Champagne is an exceptional and superior wine and we work hard to keep it that way.”
Hopefully, looking at the future trend of grape prices, the cost of grapes per/kg could eventually stabilize if not go down.
As Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of this historic Taittinger House, explains: “The Champagne region still includes available lands that enjoy unique technical features necessary for the productions of superior wines. It is our hope that when these lands will be planted with vines and properly exploited, the price of grapes may eventually descend.”