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”

Harvest starts in Champagne

Back in mid-July when the CIVC (Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) set the yield level for the 2015 harvest in Champagne it was predicting a harvest start of around 10 September after heat waves and near drought conditions in June and July slowed vine growth. But after beneficial rain in the second half of August allowed the berries to grow further, warm sunny weather since has accelerated maturation and picking began in some villages in the Sézannais and Côte des Bar regions as early as 29 August.

P Brun outside LogisSpeaking to Cyril Brun, the new head winemaker at Charles Cyril Brun of CHHeidsieck in London on Wednesday this week he told me they had the first delivery of juice into the winery – Chardonnay from the village of Montgueux to the west of Troyes — on the previous day (1 September), though he expects picking to start in earnest next week. Philippe Brun of Roger Brun confirms that picking will start in some of the best exposed plots in Aÿ, like his La Pelle vineyard, tomorrow (5 September).

Cyril Brun is hopeful of a high quality crop if the good weather holds as expected over the next fortnight. The grapes are in a very healthy condition with very few disease problems thanks partly to the lack of rain over the summer. Speaking from Florence where he is running a tasting Laurent d’Harcourt MD of Pol Roger said that the quality of the Chardonnay was particularly high, but he would have to see the juice in the presses next week to get a better idea if we are talking about vintage quality.

Champenois set yield for 2015 harvest

With the 2015 harvest in Champagne expected to start generally around 10 September, the CIVC (Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) set the maximum allowed yield at 10,500 kilos per hectare at its meeting in mid-July, with a further 500kgs/ha to be released from the ‘reserve’. This is the same level of yield as was set for the 2014 harvest and is in line with expectations that champagne shipments worldwide will be around 307m bottles in 2015, close to the level reached in 2014 when 307.12m bottles were shipped.

With the current level of vineyard in active production of just under 33,700 hectares a yield of 10,500kgs/ha would produce about 306.5m bottles and the additional 500kgs/ha could potentially add just under 15m further bottles.

2014 harvest a mixed bag though some see quality as high

Despite warm dry spring weather, which had producers predicting a late August harvest, cool wet weather in July and August slowed the ripening process down and the Champagne harvest began in the Côte des Bar region and early ripening villages like Cumières in the second week of September around the 8th and 9th. Following a successful even flowering period in ideal conditions at the start of June all three main varieties ripened at much the same time producing a concentrated picking period of around ten days for most producers.

Opinion varies about the quality, but thanks to a warm, very dry period from late August right through until picking had finished, some producers see it as good to very good and vintage cuvées are likely to be made. In terms of quantity, the appellation limit of 10,500kgs/ ha will easily be met by most producers and many report they will also have the chance to build up their reserves, particularly depleted by the short harvest in 2012. Some expect to reach the maximum permitted extra 3,100kg/ha. As a result, given that sales of champagne in the main European markets are still fairly weak, especially in France, there should be little upward demand led pressure on prices. Grape prices are not however expected to fall.

Thanks to the late summer sunshine potential alcohol levels of 10.5deg or more were widely reached and there was little need for chaptalisation. Immediately prior to the harvest starting, acidity levels were very high, leading some to start drawing comparisons with the 1996 harvest, but in the very warm weather of early September when afternoon temperatures reached highs of 28-30degC, acidity levels dropped rapidly as the grapes ripened.

While there were some fears of rot, particularly in the Marne Valley which received close to twice the usual summer rainfall, bright clear days and north easterly winds kept botrytis at bay and those producers who decided to delay picking beyond the opening day announced for each individual cru benefitted from such a decision in many parts of the appellation.

Chardonnay seems to be the best performer generally with Pinot Noir also successful in the Montagne de Reims and in the most southerly part of the appellation, the Côte des Bar region to the south-east of Troyes. Pinot Meunier was more variable with the Marne Valley hit by rainfall, which was heavier the more westerly towards to Paris you go.

The free draining chalky soils of the Côte des Blancs were less adversely effected by the extra rainfall than the predominantly clay soils of the Marne Valley. However happily it remained almost completely dry throughout the concentrated period of harvesting during mid-September.

While high rainfall caused some problems, particularly in the Marne Valley as we have said, this area was also the worst hit by the pest drosophila suzukii, commonly known as the spotted wing drosophila. This is a type of fruit fly related to the common European vinegar fly, drosophila melanogaster which feeds on damaged berries, but far more worryingly one that attacks healthy fruit and has reportedly been an issue in parts of Bordeaux during the 2014 harvest too.

Any juice from grapes effected by this pest, which pieces the grape skin to lay its eggs, is turned to acetic acid and completely unusable. This may not be discovered during picking as the damage is not necessarily that obvious as the grapes looked relatively normal but the must is vinegar like and unusuable. It not only effected parts of the Marne Valley but also caused some problems in Montagne de Reims villages like Bouzy, Aÿ and Ambonnay. There was reportedly one very high profile casualty in Ambonnay and it is understood that Krug Clos d’Ambonnay will not be made in 2014.

To get a more in-depth report on the different conditions faced across the Champagne vineyards you can turn to my Detailed 2014 harvest report in the Trade Corner of the site in the next few days. This will have comments, mostly directly from the winemakers themselves, at a range of producers large and small spread across the appellation and gives some idea of the many regional variations.