Healthy crop augurs well for a widely declared vintage with ageing potential

After a cool and not very sunny summer, the 2008 harvest in Champagne began around the middle of September in near perfect weather which miraculously continued through two to three weeks of picking. Cool nights, bright days and almost no rain helped produce one of the healthiest crops for some time as well as keeping acid levels higher than in recent warmer years, which looks good for the ageing potential of what is expected to be a widely declared vintage. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fared better than Pinot Meunier where yields are down, in some cases considerably.

“The climate during picking was ideal with cold nights to protect the acid, cold wind to aerate the grapes and prevent the ‘rot’ and then, the light and the sun during the day to finish the maturity,” says Ghislain de Montgolfier President of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC).

These good weather conditions in the run-up to and during picking resulted in: “the healthiest looking fruit I have seen for many harvests,” according to Olivier Krug. And after several seasons where warmer summers have resulted in lower acid levels, the cool nights and generally cool season has helped preserve natural acidity in the grapes and most producers are reporting acidity levels above 8gms/litre (8g/l) which is good for ageing potential.

The bright weather and sunshine in early September helped ripeness levels achieved a level from about 9.7 up to 10.5deg so little chaptalization will be needed. “Alcohol potential at 9.74 % alc/vol is slightly above the average of the 10 past years which is 9.7, while total acidity is the highest at 8.4 g/l versus a 10-year average of 7.1. Importantly pH is the lowest at 2.98 versus a 10-year average of 3.11,” says Benoît Gouez, Chef de Cave at Moët & Chandon. “Grapes have very rarely been so healthy, whatever the varietal and the origin and that is great news as I always consider rot to be the first element of lower quality in Champagne,” says Gouez.

Yields are expected to average close to 14,000kgs per ha across the appellation but vary quite widely from village to village and between varieties with Pinot Meunier generally the lowest around 9,000kg/ha on average and in some cases considerably lower.

Many producers expect quality to be good enough to make vintage wines, but as Charles Philipponnat of the eponymous house says: “We’ll have to be a little careful though, because the acidity is quite high (almost up to the level of 1996), but without the intensity of flavors of that vintage, because of the cold autumn.”

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