The Champagne harvest began in warm sunny conditions with temperatures on the first day (8 September) of picking around 28degC, according to Laurent Gillet, Président du Directoire at Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux a major player in the Côte des Bar region.
Speaking at the Liberty Wines tasting in London on 9 September, Gillet said: “While the weather has been up and down over the summer, the past two weeks immediately before the harvest have been very favourable and we have both quantity and outstanding quality. There has been a long period of maturing since flowering was completed in early June which is best for concentrating all the elements we need to provide good aromas and flavour in the grapes. It’s my 30th vintage in Champagne and one of the best I’ve witnessed.”
Gillet had seen the first part of the harvest, Pinot Noir from the villages of Buxeuil and Neuville arrive in the winery at Bar-sur-Seine the previous day. “The grapes were very large weighing close to 150 grams with potential alcohol up over 10° degrees and acidity very high at 10-11gm/l, a bit like in 1996. So in some areas we are waiting to get better ripeness and this level of acidity will fall very quickly in the current extremely warm conditions which are expected to continue over the next few days.”
Gillet says growers can wait “four of five days beyond the official starting date for their village if they want to achieve better ripeness levels as there is no pressure from disease (botrytis)”. In terms of volume he expects the maximum permitted yield of 13,200kgs/ha (10,500kgs/ha less 400kgs/ha from the current reserve plus a maximum of 3,100kgs/ha that may be put into individual producers’ reserves) will easily be reached.
In nearby Les Riceys, the largest single cru in all Champagne and an important source of good Pinot Noir for many of the larger negociants (houses) where picking will start towards the end of the week (11-12 September), there is a big range in maturity on the differently exposed slopes with some already up between 10-11° degrees and other still under 9° degrees, says Gillet.