Tough weather conditions lead to lower yields in Champagne

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Drinks: Sparkling, Wines

As the 2017 harvest drew to a close, it looked unlikely that maximum yields would be achieved in every part of Champagne.

This was attributed to both frost and hail in August, as well as careful selection as a result of rainstorms since harvesting began. Earlier in the year, the vintage was affected by frosts in spring, and then hot, sunny weather from May to July, setting temperature records in some places.

Echoing some other European wine regions, the 2017 harvest in Champagne began early, with the first grapes picked on 26 August. With certain recent exceptions, in 2003, 2007 and 2011, this is the earliest harvest since 1950.

With the maximum authorised yield – 10,300 kg/ha – unlikely to be reached, it looked likely that the Champenois would be drawing on reserve stocks. Champagne Bureau UK director, Francoise Peretti, told Imbibe: ‘The reserve stock system, which is unique to Champagne, will come in handy this year. This stock held individually by producers works as a security to be released when yields are affected by bad weather limiting overall production.’

In spite of these lower yields, there was some optimism regarding quality, with alcohol content and acidity, according to the Champagne Bureau, suggesting promising balance.

Bruno Paillard’s experience echoed that reported by the bureau. ‘2017 started in the best possible manner, with a gentle winter and early budding in mid-April under warm weather. But frost hit suddenly on 27 April and hit about a quarter of the vineyards in Champagne. It was bright immediately afterwards and we had good flowering in May to early June, and fantastic weather in June and July – perhaps a little too warm in July. There was bad rain after 20 August, which is a good recipe for mildew and botrytis.

‘We started picking on the 29 August and finished on Tuesday 5 September. Of the three varieties, Meunier was severely touched, Pinot Noir had some really good places and others less good, Chardonnay escaped the disaster altogether. So it was a year of contrasts. With such contrasting quality it’s too early yet to make a judgement on whether it will be a vintage year.’

Maison Pol Roger reported: ‘The harvest started on August 31, about 10 days earlier than it has done in the last 10 years. 2017 figures amongst the five most premature harvests in the history of Champagne! After 15 days of intense labour, all the grapes were harvested and arrived in the vat room. The Chardonnays are hugely seductive and promising while the Pinot Noirs and Meuniers show good ripeness. However, we had to be very selective when harvesting the latter in some areas.’

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Clinton Cawood

Clinton has been writing about drinks since landing in the UK in 2006 from his native South Africa. He's partial to all things agave, and is dependent on good coffee. He's still not a morning person. Follow him on @clintc.

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