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.

Pinot Noir in Verzenay

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.

Grapes are all picked by hand

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

Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon.

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

Dominique Demarville

“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.

Didier Mariotti, winemaker at GH Mumm

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.

Hervé Deschamps, chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët

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.

Sandrine Logette-Jardin chef de cave at Duval-Leroy

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