Champagne shipments rise fractionally only

Champagne shipments has risen very slightly compared to the 306.096 bottles reached in 2016, rising by 0.52% or around 1.6m bottles to 307.7m bottles in 2017. At the end of November 2017 shipments were in line to rise to around 311m bottles and even the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) was predicting 310m bottles. But sales in December, usually the busiest month in the year, fell back generally by around 10%, on the same month in 2016.

The news follows a difficult harvest in 2017, when the general quality, particularly of the black grapes Pinot Noir and Meunier, was adversely affected by the warm, wet weather in August, immediately prior to picking, causing widespread problems with rot. While Chardonnay in general and Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bars, were the two success stories of the harvest, producing good quality fruit, Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims was more variable especially around villages like Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ hit by frost in April and then rot at harvest time. Meunier was worse effected by the rot issues, with the problem tending to be worse the further west in the Marne Valley towards Paris you go.

Given the spring frosts in mid-April reduced the harvest potential by around 20-25% on average and the need for rigorous sorting at the harvest cut the yield further, it quite a surprise to discover the Champagne Comité estimates average yields across the whole appellation at 10,057 kg/ha which is just above the maximum limit they set on 21 July at 9,300kgs/ha.

Despite this, driven by the ambition of the leading player and largest purchaser of grapes to increase its market share, grape prices and prices of vins clairs have risen by about 5%, which will put increasing pressure on some producers that don’t have the strongest brands and have to buy in the majority of the grapes they need to make their wines. While the Comite reports grape rpces on average in the region of €6 – €6.10 per kilo, for grand cru fruit considerably more is being paid. It looks like being a tricky year for some large and medium sized players, balancing paying significantly more for their raw material while under pressure not to increase prices for consumers.

This will no doubt cheer Giles Coren whose column in The Times this weekend was entitled: “Champagne is only good for cleaning drains”. In this piece he says things like: “champagne is nasty, acrid and belch-making. It gives you a headache almost immediately and a desperate hangover later”. Reporting that prosecco sales outstripped champagne by ten to one in the UK this Christmas, he says this is not just because “prosecco is cheaper and nicer. Sales have slumped because champagne is overpriced and rank and the people have finally realised.”

This may of course all be a tongue in cheek way of trying to restock his own cellar, with the champagne indignant producers PRs, send him in an effort to get him to change his view. But The Times wine correspondent Jane MacQuitty has also been critical of the Champenois, or at least two of the three largest brands worldwide, in her New Year’s Eve column, where she attacked the quality of Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte’s champagne. So perhaps, given the paper’s pro-Brexit stance, this is just a Murdoch inspired attempt to discredit the French.

2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow

The Champagne harvest has begun in earnest with the official dates for many of the major Côte des Blancs crus opening last Friday (1 September) and in the Montagne de Reims, crus like Aÿ, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Bouzy and Verzenay starting today for black grapes. The first official day for picking was on 26 August for the cru of Montgueux, the isolated vineyard set on a hill due west of Troyes in the Côte des Bar that produces some of Champagne’s richest Chardonnay. As is fairly normal, other villages in this, the most southerly part of Champagne, were also among the earliest villages to start picking with Buxeuil, Bar-sur-Seine and Balnot-sur-Laignes all beginning on 28 August.

Through the process of derogation, producers are allowed to apply to start picking earlier than the scheduled date for their particular cru – the Comité Champagne draws up official start dates for all three main varieties of grape in all 320 crus in the appellation – if they feel they need to because on their particular site, ripeness levels are more forward.

The last pressing of Mesnil grapes at Krug

This happened at Krug in its tiny walled vineyard right in the centre of the village of Le Mesnil, a Côte des Blancs cru officially schedule to open last Friday (1 September). As Olivier Krug announced on twitter, they began in Clos du Mesnil on 25 August and had finished the 1.87 hectare plot by 30 August, two days before the official start date. And when the final Clos du Mesnil grapes reached the press centre Olivier Krug said: “Beautiful last grapes from Krug’s Mesnil vineyard. The choice to start one week ahead of official dates was probably very wise.” As Jancis Robinson reports from her quick tour of major houses at the end of August: “he’s [Olivier Krug that is] hoping it will be the first ever vintage ending in a 7 in his career.”

First parcel of Pinot Noir picked by Louis Roederer at Les Chalmonts in Cumières on 3 September

At Louis Roederer, where picking started on their estate last Friday (1 September) head winemaker Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon reports Chardonnay from Vertus at 11.4% natural alcohol with good acidity”. Yesterday (3 September) they started picking Pinot Noir for rosé in Les Chalmonts in Cumières. But Lécaillon also reports the Chardonnay in Avize, Chouilly and Mesnil still needs a couple of days longer “before they become really tasty”. This 2017 harvest is the first where 100% of the Roederer vineyards have been farmed organically, he confirms.

Yields for the 2017 harvest set at same level as 2016

The Comité Champagne has announced yields for the 2017 harvest are set at 10,800kgs/hectare, including 500kgs/ha to be released from the reserve. Despite spring frosts hitting the vineyards after warm weather triggered Continue reading “Yields for the 2017 harvest set at same level as 2016”

Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts

Grapes on the north side of rows haven't suffered
Grapes on the north side of rows haven’t suffered

Last month we reported that the harvest in Champagne was likely to be well down on the maximum yield set of 9,700 kilos per hectare, with some regions like the Côte des Bar, particularly badly hit. As picking begins in half a dozen crus today (12 September) – two villages one in the Aube and one in the Marne départements actually started picking black grapes on Saturday (10 September) — it seems that the average expected level of yield is no more than 7,000kgs/ha. And there are major differences between different areas of the appellation. In parts of the Aube/Haute-Marne, devastated by frosts, average yields are unlikely to be higher 4,000 kg/ha, whereas in some crus of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs yields could reach as high as 10,000 kg/ha. Continue reading “Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts”

2016 Champagne harvest yield set to produce around 315m bottles

The yield for the 2016 harvest, currently expected to begin around mid-September, has been set at 9,700 kilos per hectare with a further 1,100kgs/ha to be taken from the reserve at the start of February next year. This level of yield will potentially produce around 283m bottles with a further 32m bottles coming from the reserve next February, if appropriate, making a total production of 315m bottles. This compares with worldwide champagne shipments of 312.5m in 2015 and the news that the MAT total for shipments in the 12 months to the end of June 2016 were up just over 2%.

The harvest is expected to start in mid-September
The harvest is expected to start in mid-September

However, after a very difficult growing season in Champagne so far this year with frosts, disease and uneven flowering all reducing the actual potential yield from the 2016 harvest, it seems likely Continue reading “2016 Champagne harvest yield set to produce around 315m bottles”

Will discounting slow, given likely small harvest in 2016?

Who buys champagne at the ‘full’ price in a UK supermarket? If a supermarket lists something you want, you just need to wait until they slash the price before making your purchase. And if it is one of the big brands, you won’t have to wait for long. As the retail war between grocers continues apace, the only issue is trying to assess what’s a ‘good discount’ for any given brand. Each week there’s usually something with a least a £10 reduction, see the Latest Champagne Offers page.

But will it last? The recent problems with the 2016 harvest, already hit by severe frost earlier in the year, and more recently from several weeks of Continue reading “Will discounting slow, given likely small harvest in 2016?”

Frost in the Côte des Bar decimates vineyards

Michel D Frost in CdB AprilThe frost that did major damage to vineyards across Burgundy at the end of April also had a major impact on Champagne’s most southerly vineyard area, the Côte des Bars, located to the south-east of Troyes. The temperatures didn’t drop that low, only 2 or 3 degrees of frost at most, but crucially they hit a saturated vineyard where there was even a light covering of snow (see photograph).

“The early morning temperature low of -2.5degC wouldn’t normally have Continue reading “Frost in the Côte des Bar decimates vineyards”