August rain leads to rot problems while Chardonnay fares best 

The 2010 harvest in Champagne was a major contrast to the previous two successful, relatively easy to manage and unusually healthy crops. After early worries about a lack of water, the equivalent of over two months rain fell in just three days (August 14-16) leading to Pinot berries swelling to bursting point is some clay based soils and early outbreaks of botrytis. The crop then ripened very rapidly with serious worries about rot spreading especially among the more susceptible Pinots as damp mild conditions prevailed until mid-September.

Halfway through the harvest (September 20) the weather changed for the better with very warm days and cool nights and this helped ripen the cooler vineyards as well as restricting the further spread of rot. Chardonnay in the Côte de Blancs fared best with fewer rot problems and quite ripe fruit plus good balancing levels of acidity. Olivier Bonville of Franck Bonville in Avize says he is “totally satisfied with the 2010 harvest”, having sprayed against rot in July before the August rain. “All the parameters show that we should be able to have a vintage. Ph are low in the cuvée (3.07 – 3.12) and having tasted the wines just after the first fermentation, they seem to be very straight and frank. I am very optimistic and reassured today but was very scared before the harvest.”

Some of the best Pinot Noir will come from the Côte des Bar region where Michel Drappier reports almost no problems with rot, “it has only affected the Pinot Meunier which accounts for 13% of the Drappier estate and just 2% of the plantings in the region”.  A homogenous ripening saw potential alcohol levels vary between 9.7 to 11.85deg, which Drappier says is among the highest of the past 20 years. His yields averaged around 14,000kgs/ha and with only 10% poorer grapes it was easy to reach the appellation’s limit of 10,500kgs/ha.

Further north, particular in parts of the Marne Valley west of Epernay, yields dropped as low as 3-4,000kgs/ha once a rigorous sorting eliminated rot affected grapes.  “On average, more than 30% of Pinots berries were eliminated at the sorting stage – an unusually high proportion,” says Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon head winemaker at Louis Roederer, “but this was the price we had to pay for quality grapes”.

With ripening taking place at a very rapid rate and mild wet weather resulting in botrytis “running rampant among the Pinot plantings, it was a race against time to bring in the grapes at peak ripeness before they spoiled on the vine,” says Lecaillon.  “It was a year of contrasts with fragile, painstakingly-sorted Pinots; triumphant Chardonnay.”

Drinks International May, 2011 “Champagne Stacks Up” (PDF)