Champagne harvest smashed all records
This year’s harvest in Champagne has smashed all past records for picking dates, as news reaches db of an even earlier start date than officially declared.
Although the first day of picking grapes in the sparkling wine region was authorised as Monday 17 August by the Comité Champagne, the harvest in fact began on 13 August in the Côte des Bars village of Buxeuil, according to db contributor, Giles Fallowfield.
This is one of the southernmost villages in the whole Champagne appellation, close to Les Riceys – Champagne’s largest single cru – and the unusually early harvest start date in this part of the region means that a new record has been set, smashing the previous one by almost a week.
This is the sixth harvest since the Millennium that has started in August and beats the record for the earliest ever start by four whole days – in 2018 the secateurs were out in the Grand Cru of Ambonnay on 17 August.
As Fallowfield writes on champagneguru.co.uk, the first producer to pick in 2020 was Noël Leblond-Lenoir, a grower with 13 hectares of vineyard mainly planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir though they also have some Pinot Blanc.
Officially the dates when picking can start in each of Champagnes 319 different crus is decided by the Comité Champagne, but by the process known as derogation, producers can apply to the local INAO office to start picking earlier than the official start date for any village, if the grapes are already ripe.
The situation this year was complicated by the fact that, as previously reported by db, there was a protracted debate when it came to reaching an agreement between the négociant houses and the growers as to what the maximum allowed yield per hectare should be.
The yield was eventually set on the same day harvesting officially began, almost two months later than the usual timing for reaching such a decision.
The harvest in Champagne has begun in August in 2018, 2015, 2011, 2007 and 2003.
Fallowfield points out that prior to that you have to go back nearly two centuries to find the next earliest start and that was in 1822 when grape picking began on August 20.
As we have written about over the last few weeks, 2020 will go down in history as one of the lowest-yielding harvests this century, similar in that regard to the 2003 heatwave vintage.
The Comité Champagne – which strictly regulates the yields of the region – set an unusually low cap on the amount of grapes that can be turned into wine for making Champagne this year. However, it was already a small vintage.
Just ahead of the official harvest start-date, the Comité Champagne set a limit of 8,000kg/ha for the entire region, with no allowance for extra grapes to be picked for making wine to be put into a ‘reserve’, making this year 25% smaller than the 2019 vintage, which itself was down more than 10% on previous, recent levels.
As for the quality of the vintage, it has been declared a very high quality harvest, with hot, dry conditions this year producing unusually concentrated base wines for making Champagne.
And, although this year’s ripe bunches have lower levels of acidity than on average in the region, one winemaker told db that there was still a good balance between fruitiness and freshness.