My first impressions of the 2017 Champagne Harvest

On August 26th the CIVC published the official starting dates for the 2017 harvest, and decided that a minimum potential alcohol percentage of 9.5% was required. Since then the region has suffered several severe downpours and even a few hail storms, all ideal conditions for the development of rot.

In the last week, the % of botrytis has shot up to 38% across all grape varieties across the whole region. However, even if this is the figure communicated in the réseau matu (CIVC reports on the generic ripeness), it all depends on the samples provided by the growers. In other words it may be less dramatic. Nevertheless, no-one can deny that rot is omni present. In the last few days I have encountered several cases of grey and sour rot, as it seems that in some areas the Suziki infestations are back. The grey rot is often developed inside the grape bunch and not always easy to spot. Up till now Meunier and Pinot Noir were the most affected, but rot is starting to show in the Chardonnay as well… All of this means that cutting out rot become a priority if one wants to make a quality wine.

And this is where the problems start. The majority of grape growers in champagne do not produce their own wine;
they also are paid by the kilo, and they often pay their pickers by the kilo. There is thus little incentive to spent time in cutting out the rot as this basically means a significant reduction in income… Furthermore, as there is a significant shortage of workers, it is hard to impose conditions as teams can easily leave to pick elsewhere.

However, everything is not really doom and gloom. At the moment the weather seems to hold out, and the nights are cold; this means its harder for the rot to further develop. Furthermore, the average potential alcohol percentage is quite high (9.9% average for the region across all varieties). And many wine producers have imposed rigorous measures and they are paying their pickers more to follow them. I have tasted plenty of clean and sweet juice running of the press, and seen several press loads come in around 10.8 % potential alcohol from Montgeux to Crouttes-sur-Marne, Mareuil-sur-Ay and Cumières. But I probably have to add a footnote here that I tasted this at quality producers who have always worked more rigorous than the region average. Many of them are also working organic or biodynamic, and all of have a natural grass cover in between the rows. The grass works as a sponge, absorbing most of the excessive moisture, which seems to significantly reduce the rot effect compared to more conventional vineyards. In fact it seems to be more effective that the anti-botrytis sprays applied…
I know that I am biased but it seems once again that real sustainable grape growing pays off, even in the most difficult years…

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 as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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