This year vine canes bowed under the weight of grapes. With the harvest now over, we look at how Champagne producers managed their bountiful crop.
In Chaumuzy, an 85-year-old winegrower has no recollection of such a high-volume crop. The amount of grapes was so sizeable that grape pickers had to be asked to stay much longer than expected, whilst at the winery the arrival of crates full of grapes was endless. Everyone was happy, but exhausted. Some people referred to this year’s as a “double harvest” and initial yield figures were often in excess of 19,000 kg/ha. The second reason for satisfaction was the health of the grapes. This year, everything was perfect. As is customary, the fruit was inspected, but no sorting was necessary. Gosset cellar master Odilon de Varine was delighted by nature’s bounty: “There were no rotten grapes, we had high volumes and magnificent ripeness (sometimes up to 12°) - how could we possibly complain?” He adds though: "The pH levels are still high and I will only be fully reassured after fermentation is over”.
Odilon de Varine, cellar master at Champagne Gosset
So what was done with the extra grapes?
The first lever is to increase the volume of reserve wines. In Champagne, a non-vintage wine is a blend of the latest harvest and wines from previous years. This compensates for annual variations and provides a Champagne house with a consistent flavour profile over the years. But the proportion of reserve wines is also capped. As the quality in 2018 seems perfect (even though we still need to wait until the end of fermentation), one option is to replace some of the reserve wines with wines of the year. Coteaux Champenois - the region's still wines - cannot be used as an overflow, because their quota is included in that of Champagne. Neither can Champagne produce ‘Vin de France’ (the former entry-level table wine category) by law so some winegrowers leave grapes in the vineyard! To prevent vines from burning themselves out in the future, the grapes need to be cut. For once, the birds are allowed to get drunk!
What will this imply for the consumer?
Although prices will not fall, there is still reason for celebration. The wines will likely be delicious; acidity is the only outstanding issue and that will soon be resolved. It is therefore probable that most winegrowers will make vintage Champagnes that may recall the top vintages (2008, 2002...). And this increased quality should be noticeable for a few years due to the super reserve wines in cellars.