No bubble trouble on tap yet

January 08, 1999|By JULIE E. GREENE

People hoping to toast the new millennium with champagne may want to lay in their stocks soon, especially if they have a taste for really good bubbly.

Despite some international rumors and stories about a short supply because of big celebrations planned for the holiday, many Tri-State area liquor store owners say they haven't given a second thought to ordering champagne or sparkling wine for next New Year's Eve.

A shortage isn't expected of sparkling wine or most brands of real champagne, said Jean-Louis Carbonnier, director of the Champagne Wines Information Bureau in New York City. The bureau represents the growers and producers of champagne, which is made exclusively in Champagne, France.

Champagne is expected to release 300 million bottles this year, Carbonnier said.

Nonetheless, there probably is some hoarding going on already, especially of the more well-known brands and better vintages, such as Dom Perignon, because it will be harder to obtain this year, Carbonnier said.


Paul Giannaris, who buys wines for the Airport Inn and Four Points Hotel in the Hagerstown area, said he has been stocking up on champagne for Dec. 31, 1999, since December 1997.

The Airport Inn is one of the few places in the area that sells a lot of real champagne, especially the finer vintages such as Cristal 1990, Giannaris said.

Giannaris said he can only buy six bottles a year of Cristal by Louis Roederer because the winery has a limited supply. The price of a bottle in a store is about $160 to $180 and goes up every other month, he said.

Giannaris said he already sold two cases of Dom Perignon just before the new year, some of which he's sure the owner will save for the upcoming celebration.

The restaurant and hotel also have to stock up for champagne for the real entry to the new millennium - Jan. 1, 2001, he said.

Giannaris isn't the only one planning ahead for the new year.

The state of Pennsylvania, which controls distribution to all the liquor stores in the state, has placed its champagne order more than seven months early, said Donna Pinkham, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

The state ordered 20 percent more than normal, she said. That's about 422,400 cases of champagne and sparkling wine for the state's 650 wine and spirits shops.

Some liquor store owners think the concern over a shortage of champagne has been spurred by the media and champagne growers to boost sales.

"I think this is a ploy by the wine industry to sell a lot of champagne this year. I don't need champagne to celebrate the new year. I use grape juice or a glass of milk," said Russell Schwartz, owner of the Old South Mountain Inn in Boonsboro.

Christie Kefauver, owner of Boonsboro Liquors, also thinks the so-called champagne shortage is a crisis being created by the media and growers.

"I don't know if there's an actual problem," she said.

Kefauver considered stocking up on champagne, but decided not to after she didn't sell a lot this past New Year's Eve. She did sell a lot of sparkling wine and wine coolers.

"People like to drink something they like and a lot of people don't like champagne. Some people buy Andre champagne, so the cork pops out, they have one little glass and that's it," Kefauver said.

Alan Saeva, a vice president with distributor Reliable Liquors in Glen Burnie, Md., said he does believe there will be a shortage of champagne and sparkling wine.

"You have to get on board on this thing because if you get left out, you're going to be in trouble later on this year," said Saeva, whose firm distributes champagne and wine to several local liquor stores.

Reliable will probably restrict sales of some more expensive champagnes early in the year so they don't run out of them as the new year approaches, Saeva said. He said his firm started preparing for next New Year's Eve around February 1998.

Saeva said Reliable's supply will be at least as big as last year's except he believes demand will be two to four times as much.

Some of the champagne growers are putting out special bottles, such as double magnums and Dom Ruinart is selling a $1,000 package including glasses that comes in a sterling silver case with a mahogany box, wine experts said.

There will still be cheaper sparkling wines and champagnes, for as low as $5.

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