Earliest harvest ever in Champagne but also a plentiful, ripe crop

While the official Champagne harvest dates announced last Saturday gave this Monday (20 August) as the start date for picking, not Tuesday as has been widely reported, in fact picking began in the Grand Cru of Ambonnay last Friday, 17 August, making it the earliest harvest in Champagne on record.

By the process known as derogation, producers can apply to the local INAO office to start picking earlier than the official start date for any village, if the grapes are already ripe. And at Champagne Andre Beaufort in Ambonnay, where they started picking Pinot Noir last Friday, “we already had 12deg° [potential alcohol] in some plots,” says Réol Beaufort. Commenting on the early start, he also told the local paper l’Union, “we have never seen that before, except in 2003 when we started on 19 August”.

While we have now seen five harvests since the Millennium begin in August, previously the earliest picking began on 18 August 2003, in the Côte des Bars village of Bligny. Prior to that you have to go back nearly two centuries to find the next earliest start and that was in 1822 when grape picking began on August 20. The other three harvests that began in August were 2007, 2011 and 2015.

In 2003 conditions were extreme with temperatures reaching 40degC in the day and remaining around 30degC at night over a three-week period. The heat and almost complete lack of rain also hit yields, already severely depleted by the ravages of frost in April 2003. As a result, the average yield per hectare in 2003 was only 8,256 kilos for the whole appellation, but much less in some places like the Côte des Bars region.

The situation in 2018 is very different. Helped by the record-breaking winter rainfall of 345mm between November 2017 and January 2018, the grapes are not raisin like and dehydrated, but healthy and the agronomic yield is well above maximum level set with recent reports suggesting it’s in the range between 16,000-19,000kgs/ha. Back in late July, the maximum yield the Comité set of 10,800kg/ha, was in line with their view that champagne consumption will remain stable in 2018 at around the current level of 307.25m bottles (total shipments in 2017, according to CIVC figures).

With the current area of productive vineyard at around 33,868 hectares (the provisional figure for the 2017 harvest) a yield of 10,800kg/ha will produce around 310m bottles. If we pushed this yield up to 15,000kgs/ha, that would add about another 120m bottles to the potential volume.

While the Champenois won’t be making this volume of champagne, given the apparently high quality of the 2018 crop what they will be doing is picking most of it, and replacing any poor quality juice currently held in the Réserve. This is great news for future quality and will be particularly welcome to those holding a lot of the 2017 harvest in reserve, given that harvest was adversely affected by botrytis.

Hervé Dantan, chef de cave at Lanson

Hervé Dantan, chef de cave at Lanson said earlier this week, “the level of sugar is high, over 10deg° and the acidity is moderate with a sugar acid balance very close to the 2002 harvest. We’ve had impeccable sanitary condition, a very beautiful evolution of maturity and good yields in most of Champagne.” While the summer has evoked memories of 2003, says Dantan, the very heavy winter rainfall replenished the moisture in the soil and although there was water stress in some parcels, all three varieties have good levels of maturity and the musts will be higher quality than in 2003 with a better level of phenolic ripeness.

The 2018 Champagne harvest has officially started

The Champagne harvest officially started today, Monday, 20 August. The secateurs were out in a number of villages, in the Côte des Bars region, including Buxeuil, Polisot and Polisy, where all three varieties may be harvested. The isolated cru of Montgueux, due east of the city of Troyes, renown for its super charged, ripe Chardonnay, that is set to start on Wednesday, will be cutting Meunier and Pinot Noir from tomorrow (21 August).

The secateurs will be out in Verzenay before the end of this week

Further north in the Marne department the dates for all varieties are largely set for later in the week. The premier cru of Cumières, that’s often one of the earliest crus to pick, begins on 24 August. Top Chardonnay villages like Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Oger and Le Mesnil may all begin on 27 August. While in the Montagne de Reims, Bouzy and Ambonnay are on Thursday (23 August), Aÿ on Friday (24 August) and even on the usually cooler northern slopes of Verzy and Verzenay the picture is similar –24 and 23 August respectively.

Nearly all 318 crus can start picking before the end of the month, there’s only a handful that are expected to wait until 1 September, and that’s the latest start date in any single village, bar Grauves which begins on 2 September.

Yields for 2018 harvest set at 10,800kgs/ha as Comité predicts growth over next few years

Champagne producers have just agreed to set the maximum yield level for the 2018 harvest at 10,800kilos per hectare. This is the same level as was agreed for the previous harvest in 2017, though that included 500kgs/ha to be released from the reserve, so it was effectively 10,300kgs/ha. After severe April frosts in 2017 and then major problems with rot just before picking began in late August the average yield for the 2017 reached 10,057 kg/ha, according to the provisional figure released by the Champagne Comité.

Picking grapes in Verzenay

So far, the 2018 growing season has been Continue reading “Yields for 2018 harvest set at 10,800kgs/ha as Comité predicts growth over next few years”

MACB 2018 now published

Met up with the team at Drinks International at the start of this week to celebrate the publication of the fourth ‘Most Admired Champagne Brands’ supplements I have overseen and written. You can read the magazine, our most successful and largest to date, via this link: https://goo.gl/U6jAnE .

We enjoyed a glass of Piper Heidsieck Rare 2002 over lunch, which 28-50 in Fetter Lane (along with its two sister restaurants) is selling for just £15 a glass (£89 a bottle). This must be just about the bargain fizz Continue reading “MACB 2018 now published”

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 Continue reading “Champagne shipments rise fractionally only”

2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow

The last pressing of Mesnil grapes at Krug

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, Continue reading “2017 Champagne harvest gets into full flow”

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”