#ChampagneHarvest13 – Kick Off in Cummière


It is that exciting time of the year again! This year no secateurs for me, but I have set myself as a goal to try and visit fifty to sixty Champagne producers during harvest and report my findings here in the #champagneharvest13 section. I will also add pictures on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook under the same tag so hopefully this will allow me to share the Champagne harvest experience a little!

Meunier harvest in Cummiere

2013 has not been the easiest year, in Champagne as in other regions. It seemed like winter went on forever, spring never really happened and flowering only occurred at the beginning of summer – about three weeks later than usual. Summer was great as it was sunny and very hot, and even though a few areas suffered hail damage, the heat dried up the broken berries and the other grapes compensated to make relatively big beautiful bunches. Things were looking up providing the weather held up in September. Unfortunately we had about two weeks of cold rainy weather, which slowed the ripening process and increased the risk of rot. This week the sun came out to play again and everybody is hoping she will hang around for a bit as in a lot of places the harvest will not start till October.

Harvest is very regulated in Champagne. The start dates are set village by village and variety by variety, and this year the dates are all over the place. The main reason for why there is a two week difference between the first and the last villages is because flowering happened the same way. Some areas flowered at the end of June whilst some places had to weight for the July sun for flowering to happen. The cold weather in June furthermore caused irregularities resulting in a lot of hen and chicken (milrendage) in these earlier bunches. Anyway, harvest kicked off yesterday in the Aube in Buxeuil and Balnot-sur-Laignes and today here in the Marne area in Cummière and Bethon.

The fact that Cummière, which is situated just under my village, can start 6 days earlier than Hautvillers shows off well – in my opinion – the difference in micro-climates we have in Champagne.

Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy

But lets get back to business and talk about the #champagneharvest13 at a specific producer. Today I visited Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy who had started to pick some of his Meunier in Cummière. The Geoffroy family has grown grapes in the Marne valley since the 17th century and own 14 hectares of vineyard. Six years ago Jean-Baptiste moved the winemaking and storing facilities to Ay – “it made sense to centralize everything in one place rather than to continue to work out of 3 different locations in Cummière. Here in Ay I can work the way I always wanted to and pay attention to many details” .

One of these details is working in a gravity fed way. Grapes are delivered at the top of the building and processed vineyard by vineyard. They are weight by the forklift and entered in a wee computer attached to the forklift. The crates are entered into the press house and poured into the traditional 4000 kg round Coquard press. Just under the press house is the winery and the juice runs from the press directly into the tanks. The first 60 liters is run off into the first tailles, and the first two pressings make up the cuvée. This means, that instead of the allowed 20 hectoliters of cuvée, Jean-Baptiste only keeps 18 hectoliters. The last two pressings are collected (and later vinified) as first and second tailles. Once the pressing has been completed, the juice is left in the different tanks overnight to settle and will be racked in the morning. After that the juice is pumped into 3 different tanks to start the first fermentation. Geoffroy likes to work with natural yeasts, but more than anything he likes to have clean and fresh wines. He admitted that for this first Marc he may choose to use oculated yeast if the fermentation does not start straight away. This harvest he will test different ways of limiting sulfites in the wine making process. Normally a little sulfite is added as the juice runs from the press in to the receiving tanks. This helps to stabilize the must and has as an added advantage that it takes away some colour. Jean Baptiste will test adding less sulfites the normal way, as well as adding the sulfites (in a smaller quantity) once once he has collected the 18 hectoliters of the cuvée in the tank. He is helped by the CIVC research center who will analyse the results.

Traditional Coquard Press closing

I felt very fortunate to arrive just as the very first press load of the 2013 harvest was being loaded. It was Meunier, and a little Pinot Noir, from two vineyards on the steep slopes between Cummière and Dammery. Jean-Baptiste decided to pick today, even if the alcohol percentage was not as high as he may have liked, because these vineyards started to be affected by rot. The grapes which came in were quite clean – obviously a strict selection at the vines had been applied. When he tasted the juice, Jean-Baptiste was happy with the sugar levels and the acidity though admitted that this first press load (marc) would probably need some extra sugar.All in all he is happy with the quality but he hopes the weather will remain good for the next two weeks to avoid more rot damage.

Harvest will properly kick off at Champagne Geoffroy from tomorrow on when another 20 pickers arrive. In total the company employs 25 pickers and debardeurs (grape carriers) and 5 winery staff – of which 3 work at the press and 2 in the winery. Jean Baptiste thinks vintage will continue for another 2 weeks, which is pretty unusual for Champagne, but linked to the split flowering. Weather permitting he would like to avoid working on Sunday to try and stay under the newly imposed social security platforms which increase the charges from 8 to 44%. The change in the social security regulation is a seriously bitter pill to swallow for most Champenois winegrowers with more than five hectares.

About Caroline

Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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