Champagne sales are expected to clock up a record year as shops and restaurants replenish stocks after months of virus-related restrictions and as retail demand surges, an industry body said Friday.

The outlook for the key Christmas and New Year festive season, however, is clouded by uncertainty over the recently detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Jean-Marie Barillere, co-president of the CIVC champagne industry association and president of the champagne brand group UMP, told AFP that the sector was headed for sales of 315 million bottles this year, representing turnover of 5.5 billion euros ($6.2 billion).

If confirmed, that would beat the current annual sales record of 5 billion euros, reached in 2019 before Covid struck.

The sales surge comes as severe spring frosts followed by summer rains wreaked havoc on vineyards across France, which are forecast to report harvest losses of up to a third on a year.

But champagne must be aged over a year and producers traditionally keep millions of bottles locked away in their cellars to ensure steady supplies from one year to the next.

Champagne is enjoying its bubbliest year ever
Champagne is enjoying its bubbliest year ever AFP / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI

Strong exports, especially to English-speaking countries, were a big factor for the bumper year, Barillere said.

"The pandemic has created new consumer habits," he said. "Everything related to entertaining at home is in high demand, including champagne."

But the prospects for traditional events and restaurant dining over Christmas and New Year's depends on Covid developments, and whether the Omicron strand prompts new travel restrictions, curfews or lockdowns.

"Two weeks ago I would have told you that the outlook for the festive season was excellent but the new variant has dampened our optimism," he said.

There was now a danger of a "terrible halt" to plans for end-of-year festivities.

Dozens of countries have reported Omicron cases and the World Health Organization has said it could take weeks to determine how dangerous the variant really is.

The EU health agency meanwhile has warned that the new strand could cause more than half of Europe's Covid cases in the next few months.

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