France to extend Champagne-growing area

REIMS, France, March 2, 2008 (AFP) – As champagne sales pop all-time record highs and demand outstrips supply, France’s wine-making czars are to issue an historic ruling to extend the champagne-growing area, a move that will pour new wealth into 40 small rural villages.

Like other French wines, Champagne-labelled bottles are produced only from grapes nurtured in a specially-designated region — in this case 33,500 hectares of land mapped out almost a century back.

But with production of the bubbly at a maximum 400 million bottles a year, grape prices are exploding and the value of a hectare of vineyard has hit almost a million euros.

As sales rise constantly, climbing 5.3 percent in 2007 to 338 million bottles, the potential new winners of the prestigious label are waiting breathlessly for a re-drawn champagne map to be issued March 13 by the body that rules over wine, the INAO or Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualite.

“If your vines fall on the wrong side of the divide, they will be worth 5,000 euros a hectare,” said Gilles Flutet who is in charge of demarcation at INAO. “On the other side they will be worth a million euros.”

The current champagne region — which like other wine regions is known as an AOC or “appellation d’origine cont