Is Y2K Bubbly Shortfall Real?

American actress Sharon Stone walks away after praying at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, during a visit to Jerusalem's Old City, Sunday, March 12, 2006. Stone is on a five-day visit to Israel sponsored by the Peres Center for Peace.
AP Photo/Limor Edrey
Government officials recently assured Americans that most major technological systems are ready for the year 2000, but maybe they should have checked the Champagne supply. There's a bubbling disagreement over whether the really good stuff will be available to welcome in the New Year.

"The supply is not in a good situation," said Steuart Foster, senior brand manager for Moet and Chandon. "It is truly getting to be a dilemma."

Part of the reason, Foster said, is that there are a limited number of vineyards in the Champagne region of France and this is a time of "double-digit growth" in demand for the high-end imported bubbly.

Wine makers have a saying that not all sparkling wine is Champagne. True Champagne comes only from the province's rare mix of soil, climate and grapes which, combined with a unique fermentation method, give Champagne its distinctive sparkle and taste. Anything else, experts said, is merely sparkling wine.

Foster said hotels and restaurants are buying cases and cases to prepare for large New Year's Eve parties "in which they are going to pour endless quantities" of Champagne.

Foster said millennium celebrations have only aggravated a supply that was already tight because Americans now celebrate everything from business deals to birthdays with good-quality Champagne.

But if you ask Thomas Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator magazine, whether there will be a shortage of sparkling wine and Champagnes, the answer is a lot different.

"There will be plenty of bubbly. There will be no shortage! I repeat, there will be no shortage. Don't panic. Don't be alarmed," Matthews told MarketWatch.com's radio network. He said that unless you are looking for the very top varieties, which are always only available in limited quantities, there should be no problem popping a cork at midnight. So what gives with the shortage claims?

"I believe it is really an attempt by the people who are selling Champagne to keep the prices high and the demand frenzied," Matthews said.

Whether or not there is an actual shortage, Matthews said prices would be going up.

"In the old days you used to find some non-vintage Champagnes discounted to $22, (or) $19. Somebody always had a Brut non-vintage at under $20. That probably will not be the case" this year, Matthews said.

The perceived shortage has caused some people to resort to crime. Wine Spectator reported in its Nov. 15 issue that on Aug. 31, an armed gunman and two accomplices broke into a West Los Angeles wine shop and made off with $250,000 worth of vintage Champagne, including 65 cases of Louis Roederer Brut Cristal 1990.

But there are sign that some Americans aren't putting as much stock in celebrating the millennium as Champagne sellers. Recent news reports indicate that many people have not even made plans to welcome in the year 2000.

"New Year's is overrated, even this one," Tanya Hotovek of San Francisco said. "It turns midnight, it's all over."

Written by Ron Amadon, an online reporter for CBS MarketWatch