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Champagne shortage bubbles over during pandemic

·3 min read

Need a bottle of Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage to toast your engagement or promotion? Looking to celebrate a new baby or league championship with some Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial?

Sorry to burst your bubbles, but those items are likely unavailable, according to the LCBO website.

In fact, of the 181 champagnes the LCBO carries across the province, only 25 have been available since Sept. 14, and only in select stores.

And it's not just champers. There are gaps elsewhere in the liquor store's shelves, and yes, COVID-19 is partly to blame.

If you think about what the archetype of what champagne is for — the partying and the toasting and the celebrating — that's all kind of not allowed in 2020. - Andrew Rastapkevicius, Capital Wine

According to an LCBO spokesperson, more and more of us are consuming our tipple of choice at home, and that's placed a strain on the supply chain.

To make matters worse, a 12-day strike by dock and maintenance workers at the Port of Montreal in August has "resulted in a challenge for certain products." The same workers went on strike over four days in July, resulting in a backlog of booze shipments through Canada's second-busiest port.

"It's a pandemic year, so everything has had a wrench thrown into it with logistics. But nothing that has been as significant as this strike shortage," said Andrew Rastapkevicius, 36, a wine agent with Capital Wine in Ottawa.

Supplied by Andrew Rastapkevicius
Supplied by Andrew Rastapkevicius

The supply problems really started in Europe, where the pandemic's first wave interfered with shipments.

"When Italy really shut down … their ports were backed up," said Rastapkevicius. "There were just containers of wine sitting there, waiting to go." As the pandemic spread, shipments from France and Spain were affected, too.

Due to the labour unrest in Montreal, some shipments was rerouted to Halifax, where they had to be loaded onto trucks for delivery west. That led to customs delays, Rastapkevicius said.

Now, there's talk of a champagne glut in France, where Rastapkevicius said producers have complained there are 100 million unsold bottles.

"They're worried there are no celebrations happening this year. Restaurants have closed, venues have closed, weddings are deferred," he said. "If you think about what the archetype of what champagne is for — the partying and the toasting and the celebrating — that's all kind of not allowed in 2020."

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

When Canadians are toasting these days, they're typically toning it down, Rastapkevicius said.

"Even if they are celebrating with bubbles … they're probably going to cava … or Crémant de Bourgogne or Prosecco … instead of splurging for champagne."

So whether you're suffering through a champagne shortage, or your fluted glass runneth over, really depends on where you are.

"We should have more champagne than we know what to do with," said Rastapkevicius.

That's bad news for champers lovers, but potentially good news for domestic wine producers, some of whom are reporting being sold out of certain varietals including Pinot Noir, according to Rastapkevicius.

"When the pandemic hit and all the restaurants closed … we had a big oversupply," said Rastapkevicius, "We're finally starting to run out of the wine that was oversupplied from the beginning of the pandemic."

Meanwhile, the LCBO says its customers "have shown patience and understanding" by staying chill and settling for what is available while they wait for the champagne to arrive.