As I’m travelling out to Champagne, just a few days since picking began in some parts of the appellation, I’m reviewing what different people have been saying so far about prospects for the 2021 harvest. Tomorrow, I will see for myself with visits to a press house in Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims and a producer in Chouilly, in the Côte des Blancs, planned for my first day back in Champagne since March 2019.
What do we know about the 2021 harvest already? It’s been hit by a triple whammy of severe frost, torrential rain and disease, with mildew and powdery mildew causing widespread problems and fears that those delaying in an effort to obtain a high level of ripeness may be hit by botrytis. Areas reported to have suffered the most damage include much of the Marne Valley, Bar-sur-Aube and part of the Montagne de Reims.
It’s all gone wrong since vegetative growth began in late March, the result of a damp warm early spring, and as the first leaves started to appear there followed 12 days of frost between 6 April and 3 May, with the lowest temperatures and most damage recorded 6-7 April and 3 May. In total some 30% of the harvest potential was lost with Barséquanais (63%), Bar-sur-Aubois (51%) and the Massif de Saint Thierry (45%) the regions most affected.
In terms of yields, the original verdict of the Champagne Comité on 21 July was 10,000kgs/ha, the equivalent of around 300m bottles. This was adjusted in line with a powerful continuation of the recovery in demand in the first half of 2012 (up 47.9%, which equates to 36,915,180 more bottles than the 113,965,546 bottles shipped in the admittedly terrible first half of 2020), to give producers the chance to pick an extra 3,100kgs/ha to put into their reserve, providing that reserve does not exceed 8,000kgs/ha. In fact because the average already held in reserve by producers across the appellation is already 7,440kgs/ha, on average the most that can be put away is 560kgs/ha.
Except in some areas on the Côte des Blancs not too adversely affected by all the difficult weather conditions that have hit over the growing season, managing to pick over 10,000kgs/ha seemed rather unlikely, according to recent reports from the Comité and some journalistic sources. Arriving in Champagne, it doesn’t appear to be the case in some parts of the Montagne de Reims with one independent producer in Aÿ, Philippe Brun talking about reaching 12,000kgs/ha, but we will find out more today on the ground.