Champagne sales fizzled during lockdowns as restaurants were closed, weddings canceled, and international travel halted, reported AP News.
The world's top producers, based in France's eastern region, are now warning they've lost an estimated $2 billion in sales this year. They say turnover has fallen by a third, with some of the worst-selling conditions since the Great Depression.
The industry expects 100 million bottles will be unsold this year as a virus-induced downturn has severely damaged winemakers.
"We are experiencing a crisis that we evaluate to be even worse than the Great Depression of 1929," said Thibaut Le Mailloux of the Champagne Committee (CIVC), who represents 16,000 winemakers.
CIVC will announce to members at an upcoming meeting (Aug. 18) that harvests will be capped this year to avoid overproduction that would ultimately result in bottle price declines.
AP said small winemakers are alarmed by CIVC's caps because they're more susceptible to output declines than larger wineries.
Anselme Selosse, of Jacques Selosse Champagnes, was angered by the prospects that some of his harvests will have to be destroyed this year.
"We are to destroy (the grapes) and we pay for them to be destroyed," Selosse said, referring to the industry as a whole. "It's nothing but a catastrophe."
"Champagne has never lived through anything like this before, even in the World Wars," Selosse added. "We have never experienced ... a sudden one-third fall in sales. Over one hundred million bottles unsold.
Top champagne producer Vranken-Pommery said the virus-induced downturn could damage the industry for years.
"It should not be forgotten that (champagne) has lived through every single war," said Paul-Francois Vranken, founder of Vranken-Pommery Monopole. "But with the other crises, there was a way out. For now, there is no way out — unless we find a vaccine."
Vranken said with fewer parties, gatherings, and festivals, champagne marketing must change from a celebratory drink to one that is like wine.
"Even if the bars and the nightclubs are closed for five years, we don't plan on missing out on customers ... There will be a very big change to our marketing that highlights the grandeur of our wines," Vranken said.
The champagne industry will remain pressured through the end of this year as virus cases and deaths flare-up. This will likely result in a bankruptcy wave among winemakers.