Disgorgement dates: who else will follow?

Is the move to put a date of disgorgement on all quality champagne gathering momentum? Moët has revealed it is going to put disgorgement dates on the 2004 Grand Vintage in white and rosé styles when they are officially launched later this year. Perhaps this is partly to highlight the longer ageing these wines are now getting, and the importance winemaker Benoît Gouez is placing on additional post-disgorgement ageing before release – the white 2004 will get 12 months, we understand, in addition to nearly seven years on its lees. Richard Geoffroy at Dom Pérignon has also been giving longer post-disgorgement ageing to recent releases of DP.

Moët management has always claimed that it would create problems and confuse consumers if they did this with Moët Brut Imperial NV, following the line taken by many other houses, that consumers might think it was a ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ date. There is no hard evidence that they have changed their minds, but perhaps they have seen that Lanson now puts a date of disgorgement on all its range of champagnes, vintage and non-vintage, and it doesn’t appear to have caused them any such problems.

It can hardly have escaped their notice either that many other small, quality-minded producers are also giving this information now, along with the majority of higher profile growers. Krug too has just started making this detail available for wines bottled since July 2011 via its website, although Olivier Krug doesn’t see it as important. It can’t be long before Veuve Clicquot and Ruinart follow suit, surely? Clicquot already gives this information for its Cave Privée range of vintage re-releases and head winemaker Dominique Demarville is certainly open to the idea. It will be interesting to see what Frédéric Panaiotis, Chef de Cave at Ruinart, has to say on the subject at the release of Dom Ruinart 2002 later this week.

Frost hits low lying vineyards planted with Chardonnay

Philippe Brun and neighbour inspect the frost damage to vines in Mareuil-sur-Ay

Frost on the night of April 16/17 have severely damaged part of the Champagne vineyard, destroying embryonic buds on the vines showing their first leaves as many, particularly Chardonnay, already are.

Driving around vineyards this morning (18 April) in Grande Vallée de la Marne including Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Avenay, I saw widespread damage, in the relatively forward Chardonnay in the low lying flat areas of vineyard close to the Marne River, but also in some Pinot Noir parcels.

Talking to other vineyard workers inspecting their own vines we heard about one producer who had lost around one hectare of vineyard in Le Mesnil sur Oger on the same night of 16 April but this information is as yet unconfirmed.

With temperatures dropping to as low as -4degC and -5degC on the night of the 16th, the damage was confined to vineyards on the valley floor and to those vines already in bud or where second and third leaves had developed.

Frost damaged vine in Mareuil-sur-Ay

Looking at the vineyards some 36 hours later in certain places all the buds were frozen, however it won’t be possible to assess the extent of the damage fully for a couple more days by which time the effected parts go black and buds drop off.

It is mainly Chardonnay which is affected and the problem here is exacerbated as Chardonnay grows quickly once the first buds break. In the low lying vineyards of Mareuil-sur-Ay where Pinot Meunier is still planted, as it used to be more widely in the past, there is no problem as the vines are not yet in bud. There was also a less severe frost on the night of Friday 13 April reported as destroying around 5% of Chardonnay is some parts of Villers-Marmery. (More news to follow soon)

Further comments 25 April 2012:

Olivier Bonville of Franck Bonville, a grower based in Avize says: “Frost affected about 30% of our vineyard. After the warm temperatures in March the vines were already showing two leaves and we were also hit by frost in the previous week on the night of 12/13 April when temperatures fell to -2 to -3degC.”

For Arnaud Margaine, a grower with vineyards in Villers-Marmery on the east facing slopes on the Montagne de Reims, the frosts of April 13 caused less than 5% damage but the night of 16/17th was colder and “we saw 15-20% of the vines damaged. But it is still too early to see the impact on the next harvest as some new buds may grow”.

Benoît Gouez winemaker at Moët & Chandon just back from the USA this week reports that “Globally between 7 and 8% of [the potential crop] our vineyards have been destroyed,” with the worst damage in the grands crus of Avize and Aÿ – 18 and 17% respectively but Cramant “12% destroyed and Bouzy 9%” also hit. The vines in the Côte des Bar to the south-east of Troyes where Pinot Noir is planted mainly were hardest struck and Gouez says Moët has lost nearly one fifth of its crop there.

Grower producer Cyril Jeaunaux based in the village of Talus-Saint Prix to the south-west of the Côte des Blancs says they suffered 40% frost damage in his vineyards with the worst affected areas on low lying land in the west part of the village. “Chardonnay isn’t more affected than Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier even though it was much more developed. We are often hit here because of early bud break and higher humidity than some areas which is caused by proximity to the Petit Morin river”, says Jeaunaux. “This year in Villenard, which is next to Talus, the damage is less serious with only 10-15% of the vines are affected.”

Regis Camus the winemaker at P&C Heidsieck says: “Pinot Meunier wasn’t touched by the recent frosts it was Pinot Noir that was worse affected with around 10% damage in the Marne Valley and as much as 20% in the Côte des Bar. Chardonnay near the valley floor it the Côte des Blancs was also damaged but it is still hard to say how badly as it has rained steadily since and there are no new green shoots appearing. It is likely there will be secondary buds growing on the damaged vines but these will either bear less or no fruit,” say Camus, “so in either case yields will be down. The frost has also stressed the vines making them more susceptible to disease like rot or mildew.”

Terres et Vins tasting encourages more groups to show wines together

The fourth annual tasting of the Terres et Vins group representing 19 like-minded growers takes place this Monday 16 April in AŸ.  And this year in addition to the second annual tasting of the 14-strong Les Artisans du Champagne group to be held in Reims the following day (17 April) as it was in 2011, two other groups of small producers are staging their inaugural events on the 15th and 16th.

Terre Et Vins April 2011

The first new group called TraitD, involves just six producers including the small, highly rated house of Jacquesson, run by Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet. The Chiquet brothers are joined by Anselme and Corinne Selosse, Pierre and Sophie Larmandier (Larmandier-Bernier), Agnes and Jerome Prevost, Francis and Annick Egly (Egly-Ouriet), plus Eric and Isabelle Coulon (Roger Coulon). Their tasting takes place on the morning of the 16th in Avize.

The fourth tasting is of the new Terroirs & Talents of Champagne group and takes place on Sunday 15 April at Le Théatre Restaurant in Epernay.

The full list of growers involved in the Terres et Vins group is as follows: Pascal Agrapart, Françoise Bedel, Raphaël Bérèche, Francis Boulard, Alexandre Chartogne, Vincent Couche, Pascal Doquet, Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, Etienne Goutorbe, Olivier Horiot, Cyril Jeaunaux, Benoit Lahaye, Aurélien Laherte, David Leclapart, Dominique Moreau, Franck Pascal, Olivier Paulet, Fabrice Pouillon and Benoit Tarlant. Dominique Moreau is the only newcomer to the group, although others have inquired, says Benoit Tarlant. Tarlant explains they don’t want to get too big so that staging events remains manageable.

Champagne shipments third highest ever in 2011

The Champenois are relieved to hear that champagne shipments rose very slightly in 2011, despite a fall in the important French domestic market that accounts for around 60% of all sales. Or as Michel Letter head of G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouët put it: “2011 was the third best year ever after 1999 and 2007 with total shipments reaching 323m bottles, up 1.09% on 2010, not bad considering the worldwide economic situation”.

Among the top ten export destinations only Britain, down 2.7% to 34.4m bottles and Spain (-0.3%) had a drop in shipments while Belgium and Germany both saw 8.5% growth. Although consumption in France was down nearly 2%, overall exports were up just over 5% to slightly above 141m bottles with the strongest performances coming outside Europe, notably in Australia, up nearly a third, and the USA ahead by 14.4% to 19.4m bottles.

The best performers in the emerging markets were Russia, China and Hong Kong with respective increases of 24.5, 19.4 and 15.1%, although the rate of growth slowed in the second half of 2011 and these three markets between them still only account for 4.1m bottles.

Pol Roger 2002 builds on success of royal wedding

Pol Roger President, Patrice Noyelle, was in ebullient mood when I met him earlier in the year and tasted the new Pol Roger 2002 vintage, which he sees as marking a new direction for Pol in terms style, with increased subtlety and finesse. He was buoyed up by the excellent year the company had in 2011, much of which he puts down to being the provider of Champagne to the royal wedding. It was at his insistence that the order was changed from bottles to magnums.

Patrice Noyelle

The 2002 vintage has a lower dosage than ever before at 8gms/l – they made a blend with just 6gms/l that was seriously considered as an option for release – and the wine is certainly a contrast to the rich, fairly forward style of the 2000 vintage that preceded it. Gentle, and beautifully balanced, as the best 2002s mostly seem to be, it takes time to evolve in the glass and clearly has a long future ahead of it for those “with the patience to wait”, as Noyelle puts it. The UK allocation was sold within a few days, according to UK MD Nick James who is hoping he may get more stock. Magnums are particularly sought after.

Champagne visit 6-10 February 2012

Monday 6 February 2012

Off to Champagne this morning for a five day visit seeing some old friends as well as new producers. Temperatures are not expected to go above -3°C or -4°C in the daytime while I am there and I was wondering if it would get cold enough to damage the vines. But even though it has dipped to as low as -14°C at night, Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon fame tells me frost has to get down to well under -20°C and stay there for a few days before vines are likely to suffer damage. While I am seeing some big houses, co-ops and small producers, partly to gauge how the Champenois view the current economic climate, I also have a meeting with SGV president Pascal Férat at which I hope to get the latest news on reform of the appellation. Further reports will follow – watch this space.

Moët to put disgorgement date on Grand Vintage

Moët and Chandon has confirmed that is will be putting the date of disgorgement on the back label its Grand Vintage 2004, both the white and rosé styles, due to be released in September this year. By the time the white wine is first launched it will have already had around 12 months post-disgorgement ageing on the cork as well as nearly seven on its lees, in keeping with the new policy of chef de cave Benoît Gouez to give these wines more time in the cellar post-disgorgement to build complexity.

The 2002 Grand Vintage was initially released in October 2010 and it was first disgorged in November 2009, so Gouez has actually slightly lengthened the post disgorgement ageing on the white style partly, “to help it recover from the oxidation trauma of the disgorgement process”. Moët Grand Vintage usually gets disgorged in three tranches spread over 18 months or so, depending on levels of demand, so by the time of the third release it has had nearly eight years on its lees. The 2004 rosé vintage style, where Gouez is trying to preserve freshness more, was disgorged in February 2012.

Stanislas Rocoffort de Vinniere

Speaking at a tasting of older Moët releases at the Champagne Summit on February 28, Stanislas Rocoffort de Vinnière, Moët & Chandon brand ambassador, said: “Wine connoisseurs like to know when champagne was disgorged, as well as things like the blend and dosage”. He wouldn’t be drawn on whether such information might also appear of Moët Brut Impérial NV in the future.  However, following Krug’s decision to give the disgorgement dates on all future release of its wines via its website (see News story below), this development has fuelled speculation that other brands within the LVMH camp, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot, might follow suit.

It isn’t the first time Moët has put a disgorgement date on one of its wines, the second release in 2002 of its ‘trilogie des grands crus’, three single vineyard, single varietal wines made in the nineties (96 and 97 harvests) also bore such a date, but that range was scrapped after just two releases. Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage collection re-releases of older vintages have both a disgorgement date and details of the exact blend on the back label.