Harvest a mixed bag with some high quality

You could hear five separate comments about the 2011 harvest in Champagne and imagine entirely different years were being described. Weird and unpredictable weather patterns have heightened the differences across the appellation. Perhaps it’s fairest to say that it’s a mixed bag, hard to generalise about, although nearly all agree it is quite a bit better than 2010. Several producers say they have some high quality material, so decent vintage quality champagne may be made, but it’s still a little early to confirm that yet.

If we look at the three main grape varieties it is probably fair to say that in general Chardonnay seems to have been the most successful variety with some good Pinot Noir and the Pinot Meunier likely to be the most difficult, but generalisations about such a topsy-turvy harvest are particularly dangerous.

“This year’s harvest was challenging mainly because of the exceptionally high variability in vineyard maturity, the very unusual weather conditions and early start,” says Alexandre Penet-Chardonnet, a small producer based in Verzy who also has vineyards in Verzenay.

“It is a very original harvest,” says Jean-Francois Preau, President of the Mailly Co-operative. “We expected a rich and very mature vintage like that in 2003, while in fact it’s a classical profile, despite picking starting in August. We are not disappointed, but it is a real surprise.’

Sandrine Logette-Jardin, chef de caves at Duval-Leroy agrees: “Although we started the harvest in August, we obtained the classic characteristics of a September harvest, not characteristics of a hot summer.”

Certainly the growing season started very early. March was warmer than usual with less rain and longer sunshine hours. April was the same only more so; exceptionally warm, with almost no rain at all (it only fell on three days near Epernay) and over 80 hours more sunshine than on average in the month. The warm, sunny, dry trend continued in May and unsurprisingly at this point the vines were about three weeks in advance of average.  Flowering was generally completed before the end of May and in some places the vines were in full flower by 21 May. Dominique Moncomble, director of technical services at the CIVC confirmed flowering took place around three weeks in advance of the average in Champagne and was especially early in the Côte des Blancs.

At this point most people were anticipating the harvest in mid to late August, but some were already saying it could be in the first half of the month (Decanter News: Champagne 2011 Harvest could be earliest since 2003). For while the average time between flowering and the start of the harvest has been 92 days over the past decade, the extra warmth and sunshine hours of August might cut this period to just 80 days. In the event as Penet-Chardonnet notes, “in July the weather turned out to be cooler and more humid than expected, which delayed the cycle slightly”.

Finally in August, after a wet cool first week, the temp soared to over 30degC just as picking was due to begin around the 20th. But rather than accelerate the final ripening before harvesting this appeared to stop maturation in its tracks. “Just before starting picking we thought we would get a fast finish to the ripening process, but was totally the opposite,” says Benoît  Tarlant. “What I believe is the very hot days of the week end 20-21st August just stressed the vineyards before the final line, it didn’t increase the maturity. The opposite, it blocked it in a way. We had to wait until some rain on the 26th, to get a nice ripening curve back. It was like a ‘surfer’ harvest, with different waves and tempo.”

As Charles Philipponnat of the eponymous house says: “It is hard to compare 2011 with any other year. It was the earliest harvest in history [for us] and yet lacking in ripeness. Relatively low alcohol potential and yet low acid as well — although the Ph are good. In a way it could be viewed as the exact opposite to 1996 — high sugar with high acid. But the malic acid will be very useful to maintain freshness, for those who will not do full malolactic fermentations, including us.”

The earliest official date for picking in 2011 was on August 20 for black grapes (both Pinots) in Neuville-sur-Seine and Buxeuil in the southernmost Côte des Bar region, but also for Pinot Meunier in Damery and Cumières two premier cru villages on the north side of the Marne Valley where picking usually starts near the start of the harvest thanks to well exposed south-facing slopes. But the record for the earliest harvest remains with 2003. Among the 20-odd producers I have contacted since the harvest I can’t find anyone who started before the 19th , so while the first official date may be 24 hours earlier than in 2003, no-one was actually picking before that time.

If they were however, the chances are it would have been Pinot Meunier because that was the most fragile and the most susceptible to rot after rain in the first week of August. Bruno Paillard reports that his house started picking Pinot Meunier in their vineyards in Festigny [on the south side of the Marne Valley] on August 19, six days before the CIVC official start date for the village because: “we had the right maturity level for these Pinot Meunier vineyards and we wanted to be sure to pick them before the rain so they would remain healthy, so we asked for a ‘derogation’ [to allow this]”. In other villages we started on average a couple of days after the CIVC opening dates, depending on the maturity of our parcels.

There follows a selection of comments from 21 different winemakers and CEOs from small and major producers all over Champagne(the full list of names is at the end) looking particularly at the dates of actual picking (very important this year); which variety fared best; the health of the crop plus acidity and ripeness levels;  the prospects for a vintage; and the peculiarities of the 2011 season.

Michel Parisot, Chef de Caves Vve Devaux

“We had a few Pinot Noir vineyards affected by rot but it was quite limited. Health status of the Chardonnay vines was very good. As the health of some Pinot Noir plots began to deteriorate, we preferred to pick with a slightly lower ripeness and to sort in order to press only perfect grapes.

The quality of the two main grape varieties of the “Côte des Bar” — Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — is globally good with average degree 9.4%, average acidity 10.5 g/l in tartaric acidity and PH 3.14.

It is too soon right now to know if we will make vintage cuvées from this harvest but the wines will produce very good non-vintage material easily be blended with the 2010, 2009 and 2008 reserve wines. From our ‘selections parcellaires,’ we could definitely declare vintage wines but we prefer to wait and taste all our dedicated wines before making a final decision.

The 2011 vintage is like 2005 vintage; ripeness without excess, well balanced acidity, elegant and quite tonic wines. It seems to be a year for Chardonnay due to the very good sanitary situation of the vineyards during the harvest but we shall see also great results from Pinot Noir in the Côte des Bar. 2011 will certainly be considered as exceptional due to the very early picking, without having too much ripeness like 2003.”

Richard Dailly, Chef de Caves CRVC co-op in Reims

“The sanitary level was quite satisfying, but maturity levels were uneven, especially due to the storms of the 26th of August which had a diluting effect on the grapes that were ready to be picked.

Some vine growers and some houses had the courage to delay the picking to regain maturity despite the high botrytis risks. After waiting one week, the pre 26 August sugar level was still not recovered and Chardonnays were picked just after the Pinots which highly risked botrytis.  However nothing opposes the making of a vintage, we have a sufficiently wide range of musts to sort out the proper ones. At the moment just after fermentation the wines are still closed, but Chardonnays and Pinots Noirs are promising, while Pinots Meuniers look structurally more fragile.

The 2011 harvest is the third August one in the decade with 2003 and 2007. This trend could raise questions in future years regarding planning and organisation and the way harvest dates are decided, waiting untill August before fixing the harvest dates. The panel of the people determining the harvest dates could be widened too.”

Bruno Paillard

“Because we were able to obtain this derogation [to allow early picking] where needed, we harvested very healthy grapes. It was a strange feeling as we were completely alone while picking in Festigny with nobody working in the parcels surrounding us. But this quick start allowed us to harvest all the Pinot Meunier and Noirs first, keeping the grapes healthy.

It then started raining on Friday while we were finished just in time with our black grapes. At that stage Chardonnays were not ripe anyway, so we waited until the following Monday and harvested the whites under perfect conditions through the week. This is unusual as we normally tend to start with the Chardonnay, but this was an unusual campaign generally.

Volume wise we reached the allowed yields but not more. It is true that the first estimations by the CIVC were low, and right before harvest thanks to the rain they got higher, but the truth was somewhere in between. We had better yields in our Chardonnays than our Pinots, but globally we reached the 13,600kg/ha hectare average.

Magnificent Chardonnays everywhere from our vineyards and those we buy in. The quality of the Pinots Noirs and Meunier is much more variable depending on the Cru, the growers involved and most importantly, the date chosen for picking. Maybe with the “Indian summer” we had in September we might regret not waiting a couple of weeks more before picking. But it was hardly predictable and when we had to make decisions at the end of August, the weather was so unstable we were very worried about disease. All together we think wise decisions have been made and there will be excellent wines from this 2011 harvest.”

Alexandre Penet-Chardonnet

“Chardonnay grapes were of near-to-perfect health while Pinot Noir varied from parcel to parcel, the quality also depending on when the grapes were picked. Grape picking management and timing were key to the 2011 harvest, even more so than usual. Overall sugar levels were a good 9.5° on average with total acidity levels above 7 g/l in H2SO4 and pH around 3.05 — fairly good figures. And we expect to produce vintage cuvées this year.

The wines are already rich, complex and elegant, with a very good acidity. It is too early to suggest what they might be like but 2007 could be a good comparison. A very unusual combination of green berries and ripe berries on many grape clusters in some parcels made it difficult to manage and required a lot of attention to pick only the right grapes at the right time. And the warm weather was sometimes also challenging.”

Dominique Demarville, Chef de Caves Veuve Clicquot

“Chardonnay is variety most affected by the lack of ripeness. In our vineyard, we decided to focus on the picking Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir to give time for the ripening in the Chardonnay. Our vineyard team did also a tremendous work to follow the ripening and to choice the right “circuit de cueillette” to pick ripe grapes.

The challenge was to manage the balance in the grapes between sugar level and acidity and pH. I believe we succeed thanks to a very hard work in the vineyard. We picked grapes at a good level of sugar, with a nice physiologic ripening and good acidity. It is too early to make any comments regarding a vintage. However I tasted lot of grapes in the vineyard and in the press centres and I’m impressed by the purity and finesse of the taste while Cyril Brun and his team in Bouzy elaborated outstanding red wines which will be great for making our rosés, especially as we didn’t make any red wine last year.”

Benoît Tarlant

“I started picking 23 August in Oeuilly (one day after the official opening of the village) and I finished 6 September in Celles les Condés.  I also harvested some Pinot Noir I kept in Celles-les-Condé vineyards to make red wines on 16 September (for Coteaux Champenois) they were around 12.7% 10 days later.

For numbers (potential alcohol, acidity levels and PH) I haven’t done it by grapes, origin makes more sense than grapes. But if you want the global cellar result, it is 10.23% alcohol, 8.1 for acidity and 2.97 for PH. In the Marne valley region, we didn’t have issues with maturity, because the quantity on the vines was not incredibly high, good but not high. Meunier was more sensitive to problems, particularly the younger vines and those with big bunches. Pinot Noir were really nice, they were between 10 and 10.5% in Oeuilly and I already know that some Chardonnay that will give really great wines.

In Celles-les-Condé village, which is in a sub-valley from the Marne, we had no rot at all in any of the grapes varieties. I put some Meunier in barrels from those terroirs and that’s also where I have grapes to make rosé and red wine.

I don’t know yet if it will be a ‘vintage’ year, but for sure, some vineyards were absolutely great. So I think I’m going to do single vineyard Champagne, which are from one harvest. I have begun to taste those and what I can say about fermentation is that even by natural yeast it began easily. Some are taking their time, as usual, but I have less to control than usual. It’s hard to find a comparable vintage as yet. One oddity of this vintage was that we had a lot of wasps around us when picking and pressing and also in the cellar.”

Jean-Francois Preau President of the Mailly Co-operative and Chef de Cave Hervé Dantan

“Our harvest begun on 25 August for Pinot Noir and had to stop two days on 27th and 28th because of heavy rains on the 27th. Picking Chardonnay begun on 31 August, three days after the official opening date for this grape. Our vineyard did not suffer from climatic or diseases troubles, it was very healthy. Yields allowed us to pick up the 10,500kg/ha including the individual reserve.

The average degree is of 9.6 for chardonnay and 9.5 for pinot noir with average acidity 7.5 g/l and ph of 3.05 for both grapes. The sugar/acidity balance is interesting. We think we shall be able to select very good wines to make vintage cuvées. The wines have very beautiful balanced, fresh and very fine. It is difficult to find a comparable year, in terms of sugar/acidity balance, 2011 looks like 1995.

It is a very particular vintage. A year of contrasts born from a summery spring and a  very sulky summer. The exceptional sunny spring resulted in very early bud break and flowering. Maturation begun very fast before slowing down a few days before the harvest because of very cold temperatures. In the end 2011 is a very ‘Champenois’ vintage with its classical sugar/acidity balance.”

Benoît Marguet of Marguet Pere & Fils

“We started picking on 23 August, one day after opening time. We have 50% of old vines (more than 40 years old), and 8.5 hectares in bio- dynamic conversion so our maturities were reached earlier than rest of the village. It is too early to pronounce on possible vintage wines. But if a classic vintage is not possible, for sure vintages from single parcel will, as it has been superb for a few of them.”

Alexandre Chartogne

“I started picking on the 22 of August and finished on September 7.Generally our harvest begins some days later than our colleagues, but our non-grafted vines are always early.  We have a very nice quality and health of the fruit this year. The Meunier were perfectly ripe, with nice colour and brown pips. A selection of grapes had to be made because of the rot, but it’s totally ‘normal’.

Concerning the Pinot Noir, the maturation took longer, we had to wait and make a selection of the ripe fruits. Some grapes didn’t colour, the selection had to be more rigorous, but once selected, the grapes were very nice and healthy. For the Pinot Noir parcels, we often passed two times in the vineyard to pick everything at a good moment.  The Chardonnay asked more time to obtain a nice sugar level, but 12 days after the start the first chardonnay obtained a good ripeness level and I didn’t see any rot in this variety.

Average potential alcohol isn’t representative this year, we had less sugar (alcohol) but a nice ripeness. We reached 9.6% on the Meunier (mostly non-grafted plants, the maturity is never as high as the grafted plants), between 9.8 to 10.9% on the Pinot Noir (average of 10% if you take all our different parcels) and 9.9% average on the Chardonnay. Ph are about 2,98 – 3,02. I don’t look at acidity so early.

I never tasted so good vins clairs, they are really impressive, very pure and elegant for some Meuniers from the sand, Intense, deep for our Pinot Noirs, especially for our parcel “Les Orizeaux”, which really surprised me. The parcel of Les Couarres Chateau also show well, with less “opulence”, but really nice and elegant notes of flowers on the nose and the mouth. The Chardonnay are finishing their fermentations, maybe not so pure as the black skin grapes in Merfy, but really interesting too.

This year everything was really early and I often asked during the harvest: Could I wait longer, do I have to pick up now? Finally, I saw that the sugar level stopped its evolution before the end of my harvest. I think the choices were good this year.”

Benoît Gouez, Chef de Caves Moët & Chandon

“Generally we have started picking two or three days later than the CIVC dates and even a week later in the Côte des Blancs as we had the ambition to harvest at a  higher level of maturity with the possibility to sort the grapes on a large scale (like in 2010) if botrytis developed. We began picking on 22 August in in Montgenost and ended on 9 September in Epernay and the Côte des Blancs.

Blending NV won’t be an issue as the maturity, even if low compared to recent standards, remains high enough and with little botrytis. It is too early to say if we will do a vintage. I always believe that a minimum of 9.5 potential alcohol is needed, at least it is what history tells us. Some Pinot Noir and Meunier should have the potential, the question mark is on the Chardonnay. We hope that the Chardonnay coming from our vineyards at the end of the harvest will make it. At least it is the reason why we have waited for them for an extra week.

It is difficult to compare 2011 with another year, but you should look for one where the Chardonnay has been behind Pinot Noir and Meunier. What is significant is that following 2003 and 2007 this is the 3rd August harvest in less than ten years when it never happened in the 20th century. Chardonnay has been behind Pinot Noir and Meunier and finally we have stopped the harvest for the very first time and send back home for few days more than 650 pickers!”

Hervé Deschamps, Chef de Caves Perrier-Jouët

“This year we needed to know the plots well and to judge which areas should be left a little longer to let the grapes ripen properly. Although everything has been so early we have coped well and the taken the time needed. I think 2011 is a good healthy year with a nice sugar/acidity balance. Perhaps a good vintage for the 200th anniversary of Perrier-Jouët.”

Didier Mariotti, Chef de Caves G.H. Mumm

“Our vineyards was not affected by rot. We did all the treatments at the perfect timing and in fact the pre-harvest rain didn’t really affected the vineyards because the temperature wasn’t so high in August and we were lucky enough to have some wind just after the rain to dry the vines to limit the development of the rot. Some regions were more affected but it’s nothing compared to the last vintage.

Apart from the difficulty of managing the picking of the grapes to get enough ripeness and that all the villages started at the same time, which means the harvest was 5-6 days shorter than usual (we beat our record volume in one day) it was a nice vintage.

It was an unusual vintage. To produce good wines we have to understand each vintage and everyone is different. That’s what makes this job so interesting. There are no rules, only tastings and gut feelings. At least this time the CIVC technicians were able to predict that the vintage would be early — not the case in 2003 — and everybody was ready. All our models are built for harvest in September so it was difficult to find the perfect harvest date for all the villages and the weather was so changeable the week before that our predictions were not perfect.”

Gilles Dumangin,
J. Dumangin Fils  Spécialités Dumangin

“We started on 24 August (CIVC 23/08) but had to stop for a week after the Meuniers as the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were not ripe enough. We finished on 5 September. We had no hail, almost no rot (less than 2% in average in the Meunier and nothing in the other two varieties). It was one of the sanest harvests I have seen in years. Yields were OK around 13,000kgs/ha on Meunier; 15,000 on Chardonnay; and 14,000 on Pinot Noir. So we did the 13,600kgs/ha on average.

This year acidity is great on all three grapes; ripeness is low on Meuniers (but sane); Pinot Noir is average and Chardonnay normal (10.5%+). As far as ponteintial vintage wines are concerned it is difficult to comment at that point. I really like the strength of the Meuniers and Chardonnay from Chigny. I’d say that we should “vintage” 2011 but I’ll be able to tell more after the malolactic is complete. Every year is different to some extent but 2011 for me will be remembered as starting very early and finishing my alcoholic fermentations and launching my malolactic on 18 September. Now this is THE record of the year.

It has indeed been a strange growing season, although it has presented a lot of advantages. No water at the beginning and before flowering meant that naturally we had no grass and helped tremendously the mechanical work in the vineyards. To me what was most interesting was the indecision of the Champagne authorities, winegrowers and winemakers about harvest dates. A lot of stress and emotion seemed to be flowing around. For me just following nature is the best way to go. Organize your work around what happens in the vineyards. It’s an expensive solution sometimes but worth it in the end. The same applies to winemaking after the harvest. Follow your wines, do not stress them. Also expensive too, but also worth it in the end.”

Sandrine Logette-Jardin, Chef de Caves  Duval-Leroy

“2011 offers good sanitary conditions and a classic maturity of Champagne with an average of potential alcohol of 9.3% vol, an average acidity of 7.5g/l (H2SO4) and an average ph of 3.04.

I think the quality potential of Pinot Noir is high: a good structure, a long and well-integrate vinosity, while the Meunier is really fruity, supple and clear. In Chardonnay, I find the classic balance between acidity, freshness and power. The wines will allow quality blends and some vintages. With this August harvest, we obtain classic characteristics of a September harvest. We had hoped for exceptional maturity but we have only obtained a classic Champenois maturity.”

Philippe Brun of Roger Brun

“I started picking on the 29th, seven days after opening  and I opened the press for my growers on August 27th .  I finish picking on 7 September. Many growers had average yields between 10,500 and 13,600 very few were over. I managed 12,000 kg/ha, I did not reached 13,600 but I still have 7,500 kg/ha in reserve.

I have little need of chaptalisation and the wines I kept are around 10deg and my pink was 10.8% so I will not use much sugar. There were problems for the people who picked to early with many having under 9deg And some even less. Some stopped and paid pickers to stay at home, some just continued. I started one week after others and I had no problem. I will produce vintage La pelle and I made a lot of rose and red wine for others. It is a year for Pinot Noir. For aromas it is still too soon really but conditions during the harvest remind me of 2007. The most unusual thing was the heat. Picking with temperature over 30°C was hard, the grapes were warm and juice was hot. It may affect the wine.”

Nicolas Mallart of M Maillart

“I had surprising good yields and reached the maximum due to the huge yield on Chardonnay, around 20,000 kg/ha even on the old vines.  It was very surprising. I had rot only on one small part of the vineyard. Ripeness and acidity is more dependent on the village than the variety. For Ecueil alcohol is around 9-9.5% and pH around 3.05. Bouzy alcohol was around 10.5 and pH around 3.05 while in Villers allerand alcohol is around 9.5 and pH 2.90.

I think there are interesting wines this year especially with Chardonnay and in certain specific terroir. We will have to select but it’s much better than 2010. It is difficult to compare with another year at this stage.”

Georges Blanck, Lanson Assistant Chef de Caves

“For growers who are very close to their vineyards, botrytis has been very limited and selection allowed us to have grapes without disease at pressing. Chardonnay was definitely the ‘winning grape’ with no disease (Botrytis) and good ripeness for growers who were patient enough. Pinot Meunier has average potential alcohol 9.45%vol, acidity 7.6 gH2SO4/l, pH 3.12 with some vineyards badly affected by Botrytis but many places with perfectly clean grapes, particularly in Aisne department.

For Pinot Noir average potential alcohol 9.28%vol, acidity 7.4 gH2SO4/l, pH 3.09 and here yield management made all the difference. Chardonnay had potential alcohol at 9.29%vol, acidity 7.7 gH2SO4/l, pH 3.08 with no disease but maturity was universally delayed compared with Meunier and Pinot Noir.

The exceptionally early harvest time in 2011 is further evidence that Champagne winegrowing is changing. Earlier ripening means we experienced conditions we have little to compare with previously. Early harvests may increase heterogeneity in the same cru, more than between different grape varieties. The control of each plot before harvesting becomes crucial. It may be a good idea to include this type of control in the Champagne Appellation rules. Unusually while the 2011 harvest was very early, weather conditions during harvest were close to ‘autumn’ weather, especially after 27th of August.”

Olivier Bonville of
Franck Bonville

“I had some vineyards very ripe as early as August 24th and the early opening days allowed me to cut these grapes rapidly. We then stopped picking for several days and started again from August 28, finishing on September 2nd. Our Chardonnay had average sugar level in the press of 9.9, average acidity at 8.0 with average PH : 3.06. Therefore we have a very interesting balance without any rot and should really expect to make vintage wines this year.

I stopped picking because the most ripe vineyards were at 10° on Aug 24th and the least ripe at 9.1°. I wanted to harvest all my vineyards at a minimum of 9.5° since the sanitary state of the crop was satisfying.

A vintage is really expected from this harvest but for the moment, we cannot compare it with previous years. It is an exceptional crop due the precocity, but rather balanced on an analytic point of view. We had a long ripening time in August, with long days and longer sunshine hours which enabled more sugar at the end of the harvest (to the detriment of the acidity). We are satisfied with the grape juice and the first wines.”

Charles Philipponnat

“We have no Pinot Meunier, and were little affected by rot. However we had to do some selective picking on our Pinot Noirs. Happily, while some bunches were affected and had to be left out (dropped to the ground), many bunches were unaffected and allowed for a healthy selection. We had no hail at all and yields were normal to slightly high, thanks to the wet summer, and our final crop is just around the authorized quota (reserve included).

Ripeness levels are very uneven and globally disappointing for an early harvest, though acceptable. Average ripeness in our own vineyards is above 10°3 (usually around 10°8), and around 10.8 in Clos des Goisses. Acidity levels are a little low, 6 to 7g H2SO4, while paradoxically Ph is also somewhat low (around 3.05 to 3.15 on the cuvees) with a high proportion of malic acid. Chardonnays were healthier than Pinot Noir, but it’s too early to assess the wines.

An early spring created high expectations but a wet summer dampened hopes. The heat wave of mid-august stopped the ripening cycle. The following rain and cold weather impeded any recovery, though some good grapes could be harvested is the best areas, when the yields were reasonable.

The conclusion is yet to be drawn when tasting the vins clairs in January.”

Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of René Geoffroy

“The opening date of the harvest in Cumières was 19/08, but we decided to start 22 August.  The minimum level is 9° and the results of our samples on 16 August remained below 9 °. It was inconceivable to start the harvest earlier than ever before without sufficient maturity. We did well to wait these three days because in the space of the weekend the maturity of the Meuniers advanced 0.9°.

We started with Meuniers because botrytis was becoming an issue and we moved to Pinot Noir as it began to effect that too. Cumières was not hit by hail, however we had severe frost in about 80 acres and here the yield was only 2500 kg/ha. Due to frost and rot we have not reached the limit of 13,600 Kgs/Ha, we will not compromise on quality so all effected material was screened out.

The first four marcs of Meunier were very consistent with identical of 9 9. Chardonnay harvested in the middle were between 10° and 10.7° and Pinot Noir was more heterogeneous between 9.4-9.5 and those selected for the red Rosé Cumières saignee to an average of 10.5 deg. Acid was rather low: 7.2 to 7.5 for the Meuniers; 6.6 to 7 for the Chardonnay and 7.3 to 7.9 for the Pinot Noir. This is partly why we avoid malolactic fermentation.

The main thing this year was to determine well the order of collection of plots. For us it was first the Meuniers because of fears of rot, then the early Pinot Noir for the saignee rose, and then the Chardonnays whose acidity was falling, before returning later to Pinot Noir again. With this strategy, it was not necessary to stop picking during harvest

I don’t know yet about the possibilities of making vintage. We have not yet tasted the wine clear, because the alcoholic fermentation is hardly complete. We’ve only tasted the Rosé Pinot Noir and saignée rosé, two wines which look very promising in terms of the intensity of fruit and balance. Perhaps there are some similarities with the 2007.

It was a very special year for the harvest months of August, because theoretically the characteristic of the early harvest is to have to deal with a strong alcohol with high power. The big surprise was the start date of the harvest, because despite a very gloomy and rainy summer we have kept the three weeks in advance gained by the exceptionally early spring.”

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Chef de Caves Louis Roederer

“Winemakers returned from their short vacation in early August, just in time to change the conduct of the vine. In the spring, they were ‘wise’ to protect the grapes in anticipation of a hot summer hot, but it was now clear that in these unexpected conditions, the vines would need a helping hand. Our teams have conducted leaf plucking and other techniques to help circulate air around the grapes and give better exposure to the sun to complete their maturation.

With all this work the vineyards have given moderate yields of about 12,000 kg / ha throughout the Louis Roederer estate (10,000kg / ha in Pinot Noir and 14,000kg / ha in Chardonnay), the kinetics of maturation began in place in excellent conditions early in August on all three grape varieties.

When we met up with our area managers on the afternoon of August 17 to look at the progress of maturity and collect all the data from the vineyards these were our findings. The phenolic maturity is exceptionally high, which is unique and rare at this stage: the Pinot Noir is rich in anthocyanins and seeds already ripe. We think 2011 should give rise to well-coloured Pinot juice, perfect for the rosé.

Total acidity and malic acid are low compared to ‘classic’ years. The total acidity dropped very rapidly, twice as fast as usual, partly because of the heat but probably also due to a dilution phenomenon. When we taste the berries they already have a very nice aromatic intensity, fruity and frank. The sugar concentration is rather low this year, likely confirming a certain dilution, but the health status is well controlled in all varieties. While the heterogeneity of plots is large, there are also big differences between plots.

Because of all these findings we decided to omit the traditional reference to ‘sugar’ levels to determine our harvest dates. We began picking on August 22 in Ay, August 23 to August 24 in Verzenay and Avize with the idea of a mid-harvest in the vicinity of 28/29 August and a late harvest the 3-4 September — a total harvest of 13 to 14 days. The average length of maturation, between full bloom and mid-harvest, came in at 96 days this year compared with an average of between 92 and 94 days. We are therefore here in a classic maturation period despite the earliness of the year.

As we do each year we were able to juggle our teams of pickers among the different plots but also between sectors to allow the maturity to advance at its own pace, even during the harvest. In the end all three varieties are of very good quality with an average of 10% natural alcohol, a total acidity of 6.9 g / l, pH 3.07 and a malic acid concentration of less than 6g/l. The fermentations are clear and frank with citrus and floral notes plus great finesse.

The year remains a complicated one both in terms of the wine and determining the correct date of harvest partly because phenolic maturity has been reached at a point when natural sugar is still rather low. More than ever the work of managing the vineyards is the major differentiating factor and will help decide who is able to make excellent wines.”

The following people gave me their comments about the 2011 harvest:

Michel Parisot, Chef de Caves Vve Devaux
Richard Dailly, Chef de Caves CRVC Co-operative in Reims
Bruno Paillard
Alexandre Penet-Chardonnet
Dominique Demarville, Chef de Caves Veuve Clicquot
Benoît Tarlant
Jean-Francois Preau, President Mailly Co-operative and Chef de Caves Hervé Dantan
Benoît  Marguet of Marguet Pere & Fils
Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet
Benoît Gouez, Chef de Caves Moët & Chandon
Hervé Deschamps, Chef de Caves Perrier-Jouët
Didier Mariotti, Chef de Caves G.H. Mumm
Gilles Dumangin of J. Dumangin Fils
Sandrine Logette-Jardin, Chef de Caves Duval-Leroy
Philippe Brun of Roger Brun
Nicolas Mallart of M Maillart
Georges Blanck, Lanson Assistant Chef de Caves
Olivier Bonville of Franck Bonville
Charles Philipponnat
Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of René Geoffroy
Jean Baptiste Lécaillon, Chef de Caves Louis Roederer


The agreement for the 2011 Harvest in Champagne

While the maximum permitted yield in Champagne is now 15,500kilos per hectare, for the 2011 harvest the CIVC and INAO have agreed a base yield of 12,500kgs/ha. Of this 2,000kgs/ha will come from the old resérve individuelle which is being run down over the next five years, so to reach that 12,500kgs/ha producers will only need to pick 10,500kgs/ha. However to make matters more complicated, vineyard owners will also be able to put wine into a newly created resérve individuelle up to maximum of 3,100kgs/ha, so they will in fact legitimately be able to pick 13,600kgs/ha. Until the old reserve is completely run down producers will be allowed to have a maximum of 10,000kgs/ha in their reserves, but at that point it will be reduced again to 8,000kgs/ha, equivalent to just over half a harvest

The reason for disbanding the old resérve individuelle and starting a new one is, as the Champenois say, merely technical. Some people were abusing the old system and could, merely by changing the company name, use their reserves to make additional wine while building them up again under a new guise.

In theory, this could have been done on a major scale by the largest single vineyard owner in the appellation. The fact that LVMH set up a new company in Epernay called Moët Hennessy Champagne et Services (MHCS) in early 2010 to handle administrative matters for all its six brands – Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Mercier, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart and Krug – meant that they could, in theory, have used the reserve from the 1,684 hectares the group owns to make another 11.5m bottles of champagne. But this loophole has now been closed.

Leave a Reply