Difficult 2021 harvest in Champagne begins

Looking from The vineyard in Chouilly towards Epernay earlier this afternoon the weather looked threatening. And it has rained sporadically this afternoon which is the last thing producers need as picking is soon to start in this cru.

As I’m travelling out to Champagne, just a few days since picking began in some parts of the appellation, I’m reviewing what different people have been saying so far about prospects for the 2021 harvest. Tomorrow, I will see for myself with visits to a press house in Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims and a producer in Chouilly, in the Côte des Blancs, planned for my first day back in Champagne since March 2019.

What do we know about the 2021 harvest already? It’s been hit by a triple whammy of severe frost, torrential rain and disease, with mildew and powdery mildew causing widespread problems and fears that those delaying in an effort to obtain a high level of ripeness may be hit by botrytis. Areas reported to have suffered the most damage include much of the Marne Valley, Bar-sur-Aube and part of the Montagne de Reims. 

It’s all gone wrong since vegetative growth began in late March, the result of a damp warm early spring, and as the first leaves started to appear there followed 12 days of frost between 6 April and 3 May, with the lowest temperatures and most damage recorded 6-7 April and 3 May. In total some 30% of the harvest potential was lost  with Barséquanais (63%), Bar-sur-Aubois (51%) and the Massif de Saint Thierry (45%) the regions most affected.

Philippe Brun of Roger Brun in Ay with some Pinot Noir destined for Charles Heidsieck

In terms of yields, the original verdict of the Champagne Comité on 21 July was 10,000kgs/ha, the equivalent of around 300m bottles. This was adjusted in line with a powerful continuation of the recovery in demand in the first half of 2012 (up 47.9%, which equates to 36,915,180 more bottles than the 113,965,546 bottles shipped in the admittedly terrible first half of 2020), to give producers the chance to pick an extra 3,100kgs/ha to put into their reserve, providing that reserve does not exceed 8,000kgs/ha. In fact because the average already held in reserve by producers across the appellation is already 7,440kgs/ha, on average the most that can be put away is 560kgs/ha.

Except in some areas on the Côte des Blancs not too adversely affected by all the difficult weather conditions that have hit over the growing season, managing to pick over 10,000kgs/ha seemed rather unlikely, according to recent reports from the Comité and some journalistic sources. Arriving in Champagne, it doesn’t appear to be the case in some parts of the Montagne de Reims with one independent producer in Aÿ, Philippe Brun talking about reaching 12,000kgs/ha, but we will find out more today on the ground.

How Champagne needs to adapt to meet challenges of climate change

My article on how Champagne is starting to adapt to meet the challenges of climate change is published this week in the Champagne Report, sent out with the November issue of The Drinks Business. It’s a long, 10-page feature, but then it’s a huge subject. The work going on looking at developing potentially suitable new grape varieties to combat hotter and sunnier summers in Champagne, is feature worthy alone. And I attempt to cover a lot more ground. This feature was actually written back in March, but publication was unfortunately delayed by Covid-19.

As this piece is looking much further ahead, hopefully that delay doesn’t make it any less newsworthy. In fact, since it was written, we have seen the earliest ever start to a harvest in Champagne, so this is likely to remain the biggest issue Champagne has to address over the next couple of decades.

Here’s a link to a pdf of the feature so you can read it all

First impressions of the 2020 harvest in Champagne

The CIVC has released its own, short report about the 2020 harvest just completed in Champagne. It describes it as a “splendid harvest” beginning on 17 August in the most forward vineyards, the earliest official start ever (though in fact some producers started picking even earlier in the Côte des Bar on 13 August, as we have already reported here).

Thibault le Mailloux, director of communication at the CIVC

Thibault le Mailloux, director of communication at the CIVC, in what may be his last task in that role (he is moving to Champagne Gosset as director of communication and marketing), also notes that 2020: Continue reading “First impressions of the 2020 harvest in Champagne”

Earliest ever start to Champagne harvest

The Champagne harvest began yesterday (13 August) in the Côte des Bars village of Buxeuil, which is one of the southernmost villages in the whole Champagne appellation, close to Les Riceys, Champagne’s largest single cru. This is the sixth harvest since the Millennium that has started in August and beats the record for the earliest ever start – in 2018 the secateurs were out in the Grand Cru of Ambonnay on 17 August — by four whole days. The producer involved is Noël Leblond-Lenoir, a grower with 13 hectares of vineyard mainly planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir though they also have some Pinot Blanc.
Continue reading “Earliest ever start to Champagne harvest”

Champagne fails to agree 2020 yield amid “worst crisis since WW2”

By Giles Fallowfield, Published by Harpers online:  24 July, 2020

The two presidents of the CIVC, Jean-Marie Barillère, president of the UMC and (left) Maxime Toubart, president of the SGV

The Champenois are in disarray as efforts to reach agreement on the level of yield for the 2020 harvest failed at a recent meeting of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in Epernay.

The two sides of the business, the négociant merchants on the one hand, Continue reading “Champagne fails to agree 2020 yield amid “worst crisis since WW2””

Champagne in turmoil

Giles Fallowfield explains the background to the extraordinarily difficult decision these two warring officials in Champagne are expected to announce later today.
My copy as it appeared on JancisRobinson.com on the morning of 22 July 2020 (https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/champagne-turmoil ) Guest contributor 22 Jul 2020

The two presidents of the CIVC, Jean-Marie Barillère, president of the UMC and (right) Maxime Toubart, president of the SGV

Champagne shipments slumped in April and May as the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has hit worldwide sales. Champagne’s governing body the CIVC (the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne or Continue reading “Champagne in turmoil”

Comité tries to predict demand in difficult market

Yield for 2019 harvest set at 10,200kgs/ha

Champagne producers agreed to set the maximum yield level for the 2019 harvest at 10,200kilos per hectare, 600kgs/ha down on the base level of 10,800kgs/ha originally* announced for the 2018 harvest. If this level of yield is achieved in 2019, it will produce around 300m bottles.

Stocks have built up in the cellars of Reims and Epernay

The CIVC Comité that represents the two sides of the champagne business — the (grape) growers and the merchant houses (négociants) – see this as the appropriate level to provide a suitable supply of Continue reading “Comité tries to predict demand in difficult market”

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 Continue reading “Earliest harvest ever in Champagne but also a plentiful, ripe crop”

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).

Harvesting in a Louis Roederer vineyard

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 Continue reading “The 2018 Champagne harvest has officially started”

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”