Champagne bottles are so thick and sturdy they are sometimes deliberately weakened before being thrown at ships to avoid the bad omen of a failure to smash. But, faced with dizzying increases in production and transportation costs, champagne houses are making them thinner.
Champagne bottles have been made of thick glass, with most weighing about 900g empty (more than double the weight of a standard wine bottle), since the 19th century to ensure the sparkling wine is safely contained.
G.H. Mumm, the champagne house owned by French spirits and wine group Pernod Ricard, has completed a trial production run of 2.5m champagne bottles weighing 835g each when empty. Filled, they weigh almost 2kg.
Mumm has put the lighter bottles it has produced in its trial run in caves where they will age for at least 2 ½ years.
The house ran the trial at the request of the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne, the French trade association that represents grape growers and champagne producers and oversees the sale of 330m-340m bottles annually. Mumm cannot sell its bottles to consumers until it receives approval from the CIVC that they will not explode.
If the trials are successful, the CIVC may recommend its other members start using the bottles. “If you put more bottles on the same truck, obviously you save petrol,” the CIVC said.
The trial at Mumm was being watched by other champagne houses. “It’s creating a lot of interest.”
Pommery, the champagne house owned by Vranken-Pommery Monopole, is the only big champagne group to date to use 835g bottles. It adopted them in 2003 and says it can now load 4,000 more bottles on every truck. It estimates that if every Champagne house switched, there would be 3,000 fewer trucks on the road every year
British sparkling wine producers have been warned that traditional 900g bottles will become harder to get hold of as more champagne producers switch to lighter bottles.
Michael Roberts, founder of British sparkling wine group RidgeView Wine Estate, says his French oenologist told him to expect to receive supplies of lighter bottles as early as next year. Mr Roberts said the cost of glass bottles had risen 40 per cent over the past year as glass makers pass on higher energy costs.
There is also a shortage of glass bottles globally as people in emerging markets such as Latin America and eastern Europe drink more bottled soft drinks and alcohol.