France's champagne industry goes flat

Champagne being poured
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Consumers have (unsurprisingly) found less reason to celebrate this year

It's fair to say that, for many people, 2020 hasn't been a year that lends itself to popping the champagne and celebrating.

With weddings cancelled and restaurants closed, the sparkling luxury wine has taken something of a back seat.

In fact, producers in France's eastern Champagne region say they've lost €1.7bn (£1.5bn; $2bn) in sales this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

And in May, with France under lockdown, sales were down by 70%.

"We are experiencing a crisis that we evaluate to be even worse than the Great Depression," one industry leader told the Associated Press last week.

Now, with tens of millions of bottles likely to go to waste and huge amounts of grapes ready to be harvested, a crisis meeting has been called for 18 August.

Image shows the grape harvest in Champagne
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With sales plummeting, there is disagreement over how much champagne should be produced

There, the Champagne Committee, which represents more than 16,000 winemakers, will decide whether to destroy the excess grapes or send them to distilleries to make hand sanitiser.

The situation has, unsurprisingly, led to some tension in the industry. One producer told Euronews that the prospect of the famous grapes being used to make hand sanitiser was "an insult to nature".

And there is also a reported rift over how much champagne should be bottled this year, with producers calling for a sharp reduction due to falling sales. Growers, on the other hand, say this will take a major toll on their revenue.

France tightens rules amid heatwave

Cannes beach, 22 Jul 20
Cannes: France is seeing crowded beaches again

It’s sizzlingly hot in France – the temperature topped 40C (104F) in Biarritz on Thursday – and local authorities are alarmed about overcrowded beaches.

Local authorities are being given extra powers to enforce the wearing of masks outdoors but beach resorts have already rushed to tighten coronavirus restrictions

In La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, and Argelès-sur-mer and Grau-du-Roi on the Mediterranean, mask-wearing is now compulsory in public spaces. Saint-Malo in Brittany has made it compulsory until 30 August.

From next week vacationers in Bayonne and Biarritz will also have to wear masks in town, or pay fines.

Biarritz, Quiberon and Sables d'Olonne on the Atlantic coast will bar access to their beaches at night – a measure aimed at curbing beach parties popular among young people.

After months of lockdown, there is concern in Europe that many young people, enjoying some freedom again, are flouting social distancing rules.