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.
The large négociants like Moët and G.H. Mumm buy in grapes from all over the region as well as using their own vineyards, while smaller operations like Philipponnat and Jacquesson tend to concentrate on a number of specific villages. Finally we speak to some individual growers all but one of whom have vineyards in several different crus or villages in one area.
Benoît Gouez chef de cave at Moët & Chandon 1/10/2014
Picking dates for Moët estate:
Friday 12 September 2014: Aube (Gyé), Avize, Ay, Hautvillers
Saturday 13 September 2014: Aube (Bar sur Aube), Epernay, Verzenay
Sunday 14 September 2014: Cramant, Aisne
Monday 15 September 2014 : Ardre, Sezannais, Bouzy, Chezy, Courtemont
We have started slightly after the official dates.
“We had High temperatures from January to mid-April, then average. Rain in January and February, then very dry in March and April, below average in May and June. Overall in the first six months rainfall was below average. As a result of the warm start we had relatively early budding, ten to 12 days before the ten year average. The equivalent of 150ha destroyed by spring frost. Early blossoming, three to four days before the 10 year average. The equivalent of 50ha destroyed by hail, there was very little disease pressure.
However, July and August have been very rainy and the total rainfall for the first eight months rises above the average as a result, especially in the Aube and the Aisne, less in the northern part of the mountain. Hopefully September has been perfect, sunny and dry. In terms of yield, on our estate it is around 13.000 kg/ha.
It has been a fast harvest over two good weeks, very intense as all the regions have harvested at the same time. We have broken all our records of volumes per day. Like in 2013 the results are mixed, as is often the case the clear winner is Chardonnay and not only in the Côte des Blancs. With 10deg potential alcohol and 7.5g H2SO4/ l of total Acidity, pH 3.01, the balance is classic. No rot at all.
We have also had a promising result with Pinot Noir from the Côte des Bars. Despite a good 9.6deg potential alcohol, total acidity is very high with almost 9g H2SO4/l and pH 3.01. Rot has been limited.
Pinot Noir from the Marne is more variable while 9.9deg potential alcohol for 7.7 g H2SO4 / l TA, pH = 3.04, makes a good balance, gluconic acid is rather high with 160 mg/l. The situation was good in the North and South of the Mountain but Botrytis and Sour Rot have affected the western part of the Grande Vallée, notably in Aÿ, and then all the Marne Valley were [where] Meunier, once again, has a weak balance of 9.3deg potential alcohol for 8.1 g H2SO4 / l TA, pH = 3.05, + 213 mg/l of gluconic acid. Even if botrytis has been limited and I didn’t found any off-flavor on juices, high level of gluconic acid in some Pinot and most of the Meunier is the sign of fragile grapes were oxidations have happened. Tasting will tell in a few weeks,
We have chaptalized up to 11deg potential alcohol. As for the vintage potential, it’s too early to say anything about the wines, but like in 2013 we can expect great results in the best crus and weak wines in others. Good grape supply and sorting grapes, juices and wines will be key to the final quality. The balance of sugar and acidity is similar to 1998 or 1975.
Dominique Demarville chef de cave at Veuve Clicquot 6/10/2014
“After a bad month weather wise in August, September saved the harvest with excellent sunny and dry conditions. We picked the grapes at a perfect level of ripeness: 9.8% alcohol by volume (Abv) on average with 8.3 g/l in sulphuric acid. It gives a perfect “indice de maturité” at 20. The picking was made under sunny conditions which helps a lot. The weight of the grapes is close to the record, I saw a grape weighing at 648g, It is exceptional,” says Demarvile. “The Chardonnay is the grape variety of the year, followed by the Pinot Noir from the north of the Montagne [de Reims] and from the Côte des Bar. The Meunier is more challenging, especially from the Marne Valley where the rain in August was heavy. Currently the wines are undergoing the malolactic fermentation. I believe this year is a good year, but not exceptional. I will be able to say more after tasting [the still wines/vins clairs] in November and December. These tastings will tell us if the good weather in September covers the bad weather in August, that is the question.”
Didier Mariotti chef de cave at GH Mumm 6/10/2014
“We started picking grapes in your own vineyards on the opening days fixed by the CIVC in almost all villages, except Aÿ where we started two days later than the Comité Champagne date. Looking back over the growing season the winter and spring were both mild. By the time that flowering had finished I was very confident about the vintage, yields were looking reasonable and the fruit was healthy with limited signs of mildew or oidium. However, the first two weeks of August were incredibly nerve-wracking as Champagne was hit by heavy storms and it rained almost every day. Luckily the second part of August and the first part of September were much better weather-wise, with lots of sun and wind that helped to keep oidium away from the fruit.
The average yield in G.H.Mumm vineyards was around 15 000 kg/ha. This meant we were able to tell our pickers to be very strict with their grape selection and only pick the best in the vineyards and still easily reach the 10 500 kg/ha + 3 100 kg/ha maximum yields. With an average of 9.94deg chaptalisation needs only to be very limited. What is also very interesting is the level of acidity. If you look at the last eight vintages, 2014 seems to be very close to 2008, which is great – BUT tasting is the only real way to judge the vintage quality. In the end this year, we were very lucky.”
Hervé Deschamps chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët 6/10/2014
“At Perrier-Jouët we began picking on 11 September, initially in Cramant and Bouzy. The only village we started to pick before the dates stipulated was Dizy where we started two days early on 13 September due to the ripeness of the Pinot Meunier.
Although the winter and spring were fine, the summer was very bad: rainy and cool. But miraculously September brought a perfect sunny, Indian summer which led to a good level of ripeness across all three grapes varieties. The yields at Perrier-Jouët, where good across all our vineyards with an average of 14,700kg/ha, enabling us to pick the full maximum.
The alcohol and acidity levels were good – better than in 2012, but lower than other vintages such as the 1996 harvest. Grapes on the whole were very healthy, particularly the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Pinot Meunier was generally good, but we had to be very selective in the Marne Valley because of botrytis in some villages. We chaptalized all our wines, apart from a few vats: the Chardonnays from Cramant and Pinot Noirs from Aÿ.
In terms of vintage potential, so far I have only been able to taste grapes and juices. The alcoholic fermentation has only just finished and the malolactic fermentation hasn’t yet begun, so it’s too early to appreciate the potential of the year. At this stage we can only dream. Back in August we could never have imagined we would get such a beautiful 2014 harvest.”
Sandrine Logette-Jardin chef de cave at Duval-Leroy 7/10/2014
Duval-Leroy is based in the Côte des Blancs Premier Cru of Vertus and most of its vineyard holdings are in this area of Champagne, mainly planted with Chardonnay.
“We started picking on 10 September the Grand Cru Aÿ on an early ripening plot which we are used to vinifying separately. The decision about when to pick such plots takes into account the sugar level, the acidity, the taste of the berries and their sanitary state. It is not unusual to harvest either earlier or later than the official dates announced for any given cru and in 2014 generally the trend was to postpone picking in order to obtain an optimal maturity. We finished the harvest on 23 September with the Pinot Meunier plot in Loisy-en-Brie.
In brief outline, we’d describe the 2014 harvest as a four-step waltz: mild & rainy winter; hot and dry spring ; very humid summer with heavy rainfall from mid-July to mid-August; hot and dry weather during the final maturation of grapes from mid-August to the harvest. Due the mild start we had early budburst – one week before the decade average, followed by a very quick vegetative development and flowering began 15 days in advance. It is important to note that unusually flowering of all three main grape varieties took place at much the same time with Pinot Noir in the Grands and Premiers Crus of the Montagne de Reims and Chardonnays from Côte des Blancs. The precocious start to the cycle was as a result of fresh and rainy conditions in the middle of summer. Nevertheless excellent weather before the harvest allowed a regular and consistent maturation of the three grape-varieties.
In terms of yield we generally reached the appellation (10,100kg/ha) and managed to put away a large part of the additional 3,100kg/ha allowed for the reserve. Our aim was not however volume but quality, in our single vineyard plot in Vertus — Clos des Bouveries – the yield was just 8,600 kg/ha. One notable feature of the harvest was much larger grapes than usual weighing well above the average.
In terms of the quality and health of the fruit, Chardonnay, the icon variety of the House Duval-Leroy, proved to be at a very nice level of maturity with an average degree of 10.2deg for the grand and premier cru and 9.9deg for the other parts of Champagne. The average total acidity and pH were at 8.10 g/l (total acidity) and 3.03 for the pH. When tasted, the must showed a nice aromatic fruity range with some lemon notes toward citrus fruits. The first tasting of clear wines after fermentation are very satisfying but we wait for the results after malolactic fermentation is complete. We note a high level of acids which could be integrated by the richness of the wines.
Black grapes came in at a lower level of maturity and the average degree for Pinots Noirs is 9.85deg while Meuniers show 9.6deg. We noted a straightforward acidity on the Pinots Noirs (9.2 g/l) and on the Meuniers 8.4 g/l which is a high acidity; their level of Ph is equivalent. The tasting on must are promising and the first tasting of wine after alcoholic fermentation show nice structure. Where rainfall was high in as for example on the left side of the Vallée de la Marne and some hectares in the Aube Pinot Noir and Meunier were both hit by some botrytis cinerea attacks. While acidity averages were high they were certainly lower than in 1996 and slightly lower than 2008. In our winery, we saw a decrease in acidity and density after the rain we had on September 18.
In terms of vintage potential, the quality of Grand and Premier Crus of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the only varieties used by Duval-leroy for its vintages) is very high but we won’t know for sure until the tasting of clear wines (vins clairs). 2014 makes us think of 2008 for this high level of acidity and its fruity richness. Our climatic witness plot, Clos des Bouveries, will [as usual]) be a vintage.
Once again, the Champagne region has saved its harvest quality thanks to a wonderful month of September meanwhile July and August have been disastrous in terms of rainfall. However the sanitary conditions of the estate were overall well mastered thanks to fresh summer temperatures and the resumption or arrival of the summer in September allowed to ripening of the fruits to obtain a good level of maturation which we did not expect mid-August.”
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon chef de cave at Louis Roederer 29/9/2014
Roederer [whose vineyards are exclusively in some of the best premier and grands crus many of them on the chalky subsoils] reports it was a year when because of the relatively high rainfall free draining chalk soils performed best. “The Marne Valley was particularly badly hit by rain in July and August and we had 10% more rain than normal in the Montagne de Reims, but while we got beautiful Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the Montagne, it was more difficult in the Marne Valley. Acidity is high and there’s a lot of malic acid so we had to wait [until after the official starting dates] to get a higher level of ripeness.”
Michel Davesne chef de cave at Deutz 31/10/2014
“After an uneventful winter in the Champagne region, the vine stirred into life in early spring. Flowering took place in ideal conditions around 10 June. Until late July, vegetation was running around ten days ahead of the ten-year average, suggesting that the harvest would kick off in early September. However, the unusually cool and rainy weather in August slowed vegetative growth. Veraison (the start of ripening) started nonetheless, and occurred very gradually over the entire region.
This autumnal-like weather in summer was the cause of some concern for our technical teams but despite the wet weather, the risk of botrytis developing was contained, as the temperatures remained cool.
September finally saw a return of the sunny weather, and the large variation between day and night-time temperatures helped the grapes to ripen quickly and well. The Deutz grape pickers, managed by Vineyard Director, Patrick Boivin, started cutting on 12 September. Harvesting took under two weeks during which time the weather was lovely and sunny.
The grapes were in perfect health, especially the Pinot Noirs and the Chardonnays, and the yields set by the appellation of 10,100 kg/ha were often exceeded, with an average of 12,200 kg/ha. Michel Davesne, was delighted with the balances recorded in the juices after pressing, which showed an average of 10.6deg potential alcohol and an acidity of 8.2g/LH2 SO 4. Remarkable readings – up to 11.4deg potential alcohol were seen on some Pinot Noir marcs, especially from Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Ay. The Chardonnays, particularly from the Côte des Blancs, the main Deutz supply area) were not far behind: the perfect balance of maturity — 10.8deg and 7.8g/LH2 SO 4 — looks very promising. Conditions, therefore, seem to be perfect for the creation of some fabulous vintage “cuvées“. Fabrice Rosset, Chairman and CEO, is excited about the quality, but cautions that only the tastings of the “vins clairs” at the time of blending will confirm the excellence of the vintage.
Charles Philipponnat, president of the eponymous house in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ 30/9/2014
“We started picking with the ripest part of the Clos des Goisses Pinot Noir on Friday 12 September, two days after the date fixed for our zone (zone A, the earliest) in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, we finished on 20 September in Avenay. The warm and dry conditions of the spring and beginning of summer created healthy conditions for a generous harvest and fungus free conditions. We initially thought our harvest could start as early as 2 September, however, the cool and somewhat wet weather in August, especially during the second fortnight, delayed it by more than a week and allowed for some grey rot (botrytis) to develop, especially on black grapes.
Luckily, the weather became very favourable around ten days before picking, and stayed so during all the harvest, even with some unusual heat in the second week. As a result, quality was excellent, and the relative abundance of the harvest permitted an efficient elimination of those bunches potentially affected by botrytis. Our average yield is 10,700 kilos per hectare against a permitted level of 10,100 (plus 400 kilos from the reserve, not from the harvest). We were therefore able to “reload” our reserve by 600 kilos.
In terms of the relative quality Chardonnay was the healthiest, Pinot Noir being more variable in quality, with some outstanding lots however. The average potential alcohol in our own vineyards is 10.3deg, 11deg in Clos des Goisses and 10deg when including grapes purchased from other growers. Acidity is somewhat high, but less than we expected because of the favourable [very warm] weather at harvest time, and the wines should be less sharp than in 2008 let alone 1996.The relative abundance of the harvest permitted an efficient elimination of those bunches potentially affected by botrytis.
We normally chaptalize with an objective of a 10.8deg blended base wine before bottling. Light chaptalization is therefore to be expected in all houses, including ourselves. Yet, as usual, Clos des Goisses will not have been chaptalized at all.
We certainly will produce vintage cuvées, although it’s too early to say more, as the wines are still fermenting as I write, and are impossible to taste and assess precisely. The potential for superior blends is very likely to exist, in our opinion. It was the only harvest I’ve known without any single occurrence of rain in daytime (only one small evening shower) I didn’t even need to wash my car after the harvest.”
Jean-Hervé Chiquet at Champagne Jacquesson 9/10/2014
A small négociant based in Dizy with its main vineyards there, in the adjoining village of Aÿ, Hautvillers just north of Epernay and Avize in the Côte des Blancs.
“We started picking grapes in your own vineyards in Avize & Dizy on 15 September while we began later than the official opening days in the other villages. We finished on the 24th except for Corne Bautray which was picked on 1 October with a potential alcohol of 12.3deg, acidity at 6.9gr/l and a pH of 3.12. The growing season was quite good in May and June, except a few storms which caused no damage, warm and sunny in July, awfully wet and cold during the first three weeks of August, warm and fair until the end of September, except a few rain showers in the week preceding the harvest. Some light botrytis attacks resulted but a slight selection at picking solved this problem.
In terms of yield we did around 13,000 kgs/ha in Avize/Oiry and almost 12,000 kgs/ha in Dizy/Aÿ/Hautvillers which is exceptionally high for us — but Jacquesson yields are usually far below average. Our reserve had dropped to almost zero before the 2013 harvest so this is a very welcome change.
The average potential alcohol of the whole harvest is 11.2deg of, 7.7 gr/l acidity and 3.07 pH and these numbers are, I believe, spectacular. There are no big differences between crus except maybe a slightly higher potential alcohol and lower acidity and Ph for the Chardonnays of Dizy/Hautvillers. We have not chaptalized for many years but even if we did there would be no need to in 2014. Will we make a vintage? Our four single vineyards are potentially good enough to be bottled separately so the answer is yes but the decision will wait until their quality is confirmed and we decide nothing is needed in the Cuvée 742 [Jacquessons regular non-vintage cuvée that is produced each harvest]. [In terms of the overall quality] I would sign for a harvest like this every year.”
Bruno Paillard, Champagne Bruno Paillard 26/9/2014
“We started picking three to five days later than the permitted dates in places where the weather conditions were favourable but we also accelerated in others, particularly in the Pinots Noirs and Meuniers to avoid botrytis development. We, at Maison Bruno Paillard, have always had a policy to favour healthy grapes rather than high potential alcohol.
After a very early budding and a favourable spring, with nice weather at the time of the flowering, July and August have offered pretty bad weather to the Champagne vineyards. Happily, the four weeks before the harvest delivered much better weather conditions permitting the grapes to finish maturing in good conditions: dry and sunny days with moderate temperature and cool nights. In our own vineyards we had one single hour of rain while picking, the day before last (23 September) at Festigny.
We have reached a reasonable average yield just below 13 000 kilos per hectare. This is enough to reach the Appellation level anyway, and add some to our reserve. Clearly the winner of the 2014 harvest is Chardonnay: for whatever reasons, this grape variety has resisted the poor summer conditions much better than some Pinots Noirs and Meuniers. As a result, Chardonnays are of superior quality, including in villages where they are a minority such as Reuil, Venteuil, Cumières, in the Vallée de la Marne, or Verzenay, Verzy, Bouzy, in the Montagne de Reims. Some Pinots Noirs in the Marne département were hit by botrytis, which implied a very careful picking and selecting.
Surprisingly, although they received much more summer rain, Pinot Noirs in the Riceys region were relatively healthy, necessitating less selection at picking. As for the Pinot Meunier, the further west they were located the more rain they experienced and they suffered many botrytis attacks. We were not so concerned with the phenomenon as the most western grapes we use are from Festigny, a south facing slope to the east of Dormans, still in the best part of Vallée de la Marne. But even here, we had to carefully select our grapes when picking.
Acidity is quite high. We first thought the wines would be similar to those of 1996, when the balance was quite extraordinary, acidity reaching 10 very commonly. But the bright weather of the last four weeks have re-balanced maturity vs acidity to a slightly more traditional ratio. The lowest levels being around 7.1 to 7.2 and the highest around 9.2 to 9.3. We can conclude that the acidity is relatively high, which should give the wines some interesting maturing potential.
Is it a vintage year? “Obviously, it’s far too early today on 25 September to make a definitive conclusion of the 2014 harvest, but if carefully managed, it can deliver very good to excellent wines, and maybe even outstanding ones, particularly Blanc de Blancs.
Michel Drappier, joint owner and winemaker whose family’s business is based in the Côte des Bar village of Urville. 8/10/2014
“I started to pick on 13 September, five days after the official date and I do not regret it. The most important factor [this harvest] is the dry month of September with only 5mm rainfall, the driest I have ever seen. Even in 2003, we had some rain in September. We had some burning hot sun which has concentrated the berries, but only for two days. We were just lacking of some cool nights, but they were cool enough to allow a gentle ripening process. In terms of yield we have not only reached the appellation level we have also been able to rebuild our Reserve, decimated after the hail storm of 2012.