Champagne harvest 2015 – enjoying a sunny Friday at Champagne Tarlant en Vendanges

the core harvest team at Tarlant

As the sun climbed higher in the sky it became t-shirt weather as I pulled up to Champagne Tarlant. It seems it’s always sunny when I visit the Tarlants during harvest; maybe because Benoit, Melanie, Micheline and Jean-Marie are always full of love and light! Or maybe because I know I will drink a little biberon ;-) whatever the reason I knew Friday was going to be great when I gave Melanie a big hug whilst tasting a few delicious Meunier grapes of les Echaudées.

The Tarlants waited for optimum ripeness and started harvest on Wednesday with the Meuniers in Oeuilly. “The Meuniers are small and concentrated this year, full of flavour and will make wines with great potential”, says Benoit.  He adds“it is one of the best harvests we have had in a long time. We have a lot less stress in the winery than last year, the fruit is ripe and healthy and the pH’s are low.”

 

loading tbe press with Meunier of Les Echaudées in Celles les Condés

On Friday the Tarlant family also started harvesting in Celles les Condés on the Aisne, and we were there as the first grapes came in.  All in all they employ a little more than 40 harvesters, mainly of two families of travelers who have been picking for the Tarlants for over 20 years. Besides the family, there are another 6 people employed in the cellar as well as one tractor driver. The family has two 6000 kg Coquard à met incliné presses and every press cycle (sert) is kept separately in small tanks.  This year Benoit bought more settling tanks to be able to vinify in an even more precise way. 

small volume settling tanks at Tarlant

We joined the Tarlant family and the cellar staff for a delicious rabbit lunch, which gave me the opportunity to ask Benoit a few more questions about the growing season and novelties for this years vinification. “We mainly treated with plant teas such as chamomile against oidium and there were times I was worried about the oidium pressure. However as we kept up the treatments we did not get hit by the disease. We also have very little rot, a sign that alternative treatments do work”, explains Benoit.

There are two big novelties this year in the vinification. First of all the new cellar engineered by Jean Marie was just finished in time for harvest, which means Benoit has a lot more space in the winery. 

 

round Silice and Quartz amphorae

The second novelty are 5 round Silice and Quartz  amphorae. “The Silice and Quartz mix is finer than cement and has the advantage of less loss than clay”, explains Benoit. He already trialed one Silice and Quartz amphora since 2013 with Chardonnay and was really happy with the result. Now that he has 6 in total he will be able to vinify the 3 varieties and maybe make another special cuvée. Watch this space!!! 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – honey and grape juice from Chouilly at Champagne Lenoble

 

meunier in Lenoble’s vineyard in Damery

 On Friday morning I visited Christian Holthausen and Antoine Massagne at Champagne Lenoble. Their harvest started a few months before the official starting date when the collected the honey from the beehives they keep in the vineyards in Chouilly. “we feel it is important for the biodiversity to reintroduce bees in the vines. We picked a vineyard with some trees around it as the bees connotnlive of the vines alone”, explains Antoine. 

The grape harvest started on Monday in Bisseuil and Damery and Wednesday in Chouilly. Lenoble owns 10 hectares in Chouilly planted with Chardonnay , 6 in Bisseuil in Pinot Noir  and 2,5 hectares of Meunier in Damery. They purchase another 1,5 hectares of Meunier of 2 growers in Damery.

 

the 3 traditional presses at Lenoble

When I arrived they were pressing Chardonnay from Chouilly which we tasted. The potential alcohol degree was 10,5% and the juice had a great freshness. “We are very happy with the quality of the fruit coming in. We have had no problems at all with oidium on the whites and the reds also have good sanity”, says Christian. Antoine agrees, but he would have preferred a bit more quantity. He explains; ” Our vines have grass in between the roes and with this heat they really suffered which is resulting in a smaller quantity, especially for the Pinot  and the Meunier. ” Anyoine hoped that the Chouilly vineyards will be able to make up the difference but he is not sure. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – talking biodynamics with Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon and Johann Merle of champagne Roederer

 

Jean Baptiste Lecaillon in the biodynamic vineyard Les Chèvres in. Cumière

 On Thursday I had lunch with Jean-Baptiste Lecaillion and Johann Merle at the Roederer press center at Aÿ. As always we exchanged a lot on biodynamic and organic farming and how it helped Roederer this growing season. 
“This year we farmed 75 hectares of the 240 hectares of Roederer’s own vineyards biodynamical. We really see the difference in the way the vines coped with the heat this summer. Our fruit is ripe, flavorsome with a great freshness”, explains Jean-Baptiste, chef de Cave  at Roederer.  Johann the vineyard manager adds “this year was an excellent year to use contact products rather than synthetic ones. This is what we did in 98% of our vineyards. We treated only with copper and sulphur. And since we have not used herbicides for several years this means we just about farmed 240 hectares organically.”

 

Pinot Noir at les Chèvres

In the biodynamic vineyards Roederer likes to work according to the Maria Thun calendar. This is why they chose to harvest les Chèvres (for the Brut Nature) and the Domaine Cristal Rosé on Friday and Saturday – both fruit days. “On fruit days the energy is different which makes that the fruit flavors are more concentrated; this is excellent for the Rosé and the Brut Nature”, explains Jean-Baptiste. 

On Friday we met at les Chèvres to see the harvest. The vineyard used to belong to Pascal Leclerc till 2010 but Roederer has been purchasing the juice since 2002. The vineyard is split in 3 parts, and planted with Chardonnay, Meunier and Ponot Noir in equal parts. The 3 grape varieties are harvested the same day and are pressed together in tradional Coquard presses in the press centre of Aÿ.  This is very unusual as the different grapes varieties have different ripening cycles. 

Roederer press centre in Aÿ

 The Aÿ press centre has 5 tradional 4000 kg Coquard Presses. It is one of 3 press centers Roederer owns. In Verzennay they have a centre with second generation Coquard presses (pressoir à met tournante) whilst in Avize they press with pneumatic presses. 
All in all Jean-Baptiste is very happy with the harvest up till now. “2015 will be a great year, we have a lot of dry material, and low pH’s, so we have lots of terroir specific flavors and a great freshness. This year it really paid to be very present in the vineyard during the growing season as it is this which guarantees the beautiful result we see”, concludes Jean-Baptiste. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – portrait of 2 harvesters: Daniel and Carl

 

Daniel and Carl

On Wesnesday I spoke to Daniel and Carl who were picking Pinot Noir in la Bien Aimée for Jérôme Bourgeois. Daniel and Carl met Jérôme when he worked with them in Niort. Carl elaborate: “we took Jérôme under our wing when he came to the company to do his stage and we always stayed in contact.”
Both men are now retired, but worked in sales before. It is the first time they come and work harvest and will have cut grapes for 3 days. “We started on Monday and today is our last day”, says Carl. Daniel adds: ” we really enjoyed picking even if the work is quite physical. We can feel it in our back!” 

Daniel is also a distributor for Jérôme in in Niort and sold about 2000 bottles of his champagne mainly to private clients. He really enjoyed learning more about the champagne making process. “It’s been really good to see how everything is done. We pick the grapes, have had a look at the press, and Jérôme explained us the winemaking process. I feel I understand the champagne making process a lot better now”, explains Daniel. 

Carl really enjoyed the experience s well. “We work with people of all ages, the atmosphere is fantastic, the work is hard but we laugh a lot and get to enjoy the sunshine” , he concludes. 

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Champagne harvest 2015 – tasting juice from Vitry at Champagne Legras et Haas 

 

chardonnay from Vitry

Last night we visited Jérôme Legras, one of the 3 brothers at Legras et Haas. Legras et Haas press 35 hectares during the harvest: 23 hectares from Chouilly – of which 18 hectares are family owned and 12 hectares from Vitry. They vinify a further 25 hectares. 

When we arrived in Chouilly, a few trucks of Chardonnay of Vitry came in. The grapes were looking very healthy and ripe and there was no sign of oidium. Jerome says “We have never had such ripe grapes. Our average potential alcohol potential is around 10.8. We have become so used to the ripe grapes that we were really disappointed to have a marc at 10,2% this morning; other years we would be really happy with 10,2%. “
 

Jérôme in one of his vines at Chouilly

 

After having tasted some juice, including some amazing Meunier from Vitry, we joined Jérôme yo take an alcohol sample in one of his vibes. He  has 4 hectares at Chouilly of which 2 hectares are farmed organically. We visited one of these vines. Jérôme would like to make some coteau de blanc from this vineyard, and expects to pick the grapes toward the end of next week. 

The press centre has 2 8000 kg pneumatic presses that turn around 16-18 hours a day. Legras et Haas started harvest on Monday and expect to continue till the end of next week. “If everything continues like this we will have a fantastic year” , concludes Jérôme. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – Mineral in the making at Pascal Agrapart 

 

Chardonnay ready to be pressed

 This morning I visited the Côtes des Blancs for the first time this harvest. 
There has been a lot of talk of oidium problems however the grapes looked gorgeous at Pascdl Agrapart. “I am really happy, we are receiving ripe, healthy grows with lots of flavours”, says Pascal

When we arrived Chardonnay from Les Biones in Cramant were in the press. les Bio de saignée s one of the vineyards which is used for Mineral, my favorite wine of Pascal. The juice was sweet and almost dky with a lovely mineralogy and freshness to it. Pascal told me the grapes had come in at 11,5% potential alcohol.

 

pressing chardonnay for mineral

 Pascal picks with 4 teams of 7 people all paid by the kilo. Nathalie, his wife is happy they changed the system as it makes the cooking a lot easier. “We used to have 50 to 55 people here every meal,now it’s s lot easier; we are 15 at lunch time and 25 at night”, says Nathalie. Agrapart a employees check the cases once picked to make sure the quality is up to standard. It’s important this year with oidium issues even if Pascal is not effected.he continued to treat with small doses of sulfur all summer long so the disease never developed in his vineyard. 

Pascal has two tradional Coquard 4000 kg presses, that way he can press the grapes as soon as they come in. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015- beautiful biodynamic grapes at Bourgeois Diaz and Françoise Bedel

  

Pinot Noir in la bien Aimée

  Yesterday I sPent the day in Croutes sur Marne, the last village of the Vallée de la Marne when driving to Paris. It is a rare village with 2 biodynamic producers – seeing there only are 25 certified producers in Champagne.

We started our day at Jérôme Bourgeois, who was picking Pinot Noir at La Bien Aimée to make rosé de saignée and red wine. 

Jérôme has mixed feelings about this harvest. He is very happy with the quantity, he expects to harvest around 11000 to 12000 kg per hectare which means he can build up his reserve a bit. But he regrets the heavy rains Croutes due Marne got since August the 15. “We got around 115 milliliters of rain which diluted the grapes a bit. The flavors are there but I would have liked to have a little more sugar”, explains Jérôme. 

 

picking grapes at la Bien Aimée

On average the grapes have come in between 10,2 and 10,4 degrees alcohol since Jérôme started on Monday. However he does not think he will chaptilize if the degree remains around this average. “I don’t want to chaptilize and even if the sugar levels are a bit lower I think we can make great wines like this”, elaborated Jérôme.

Some vineyard blocks have been very ripe, and Jérôme isolated two different plots, one of old vine Meunier and another one of old vine Pinot Noir in La bien Aimée to make some rosé de saignée and red wine. He destemmed a first lot whilst we were there and expects to make more red wine toward the end of harvest.
 

la retrousse at Jérome Bourgeois

 Jérome used a radioman 4000kg Coquard press and at the moment they are doing two press loads a day. This year Jérôme is testing natural powder sulfur, burned in a sulfur generator and injected in the juice. “It is a more natural form of sulfur which tends to have less side effects for people sensitive to sulfur. The generator is connected up an ixigen bottle, we light the sulfur which comes straight from the mines  and make our own SO2”, explains Jérôme. 

He expects harvest to continue till the middle or end of next week, depending on the weather this weekend. Harvest usually lasts about 10 days at Bourgeois Diaz.
 

old tractor to transport the grapes st Françoise Bedel

Picking also started on Monday at Françoise Bedel, the other biodynamic domain in Croutes due Marne.  Vincent Desaubeau, François’s son who is set to take over the domain, is very happy with the quality of the grapes coming in. Up till now they have only harvested Meunier, with 80% the dominant grape variety on the  8 hectare domain. 

“I went out to powder the vibes (with sulfur) after the big rains we had. It stopped the development of rot, snd where we do have some rot it detached really easily so it is cut it out of the bunch without harming the other grapes”, explains Vincent. “I am really happy with the results. We see this year that working in a biodynamic way really paid off for the quantity and quality”,  he adds.

 

vincent in the vines at la Grande Boulognière

 Bedel has 28 pickers, 2 debardeurs ( people emptying the baskets) one female tractor driver and two people at the press, which makes 38 people for lunch. All meals are prepared by Francoises 85 year old mum Marie-Louise and an assistant cook, often from the produce of  Marie-Louise’s garden. 8 people stay at Bedel as well as they are from several different countries. Harvest will continue for another 6-7 days. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – picking Pinot Noir for Vouette and Sorbée

 

Pinot Noir in the Vouette vineyard

 Yesterday afternoon Bertrand Gautherot’s team were picking Pinot Noir in the Vouette vineyard. I love Bertrand’s Vouette vineyard as you can really see the Kimmeridgean terroir, lots of limestone pebbles in the clay :-) 

Bertrand feels that this clay and limestone will better express the character of the 2025 vintage. “The summer has been very dry, and on limestone and clay the plants suffered more than the ones on more chalky soil, and organic and biodynamic vibes especially will show better concentration and more character”, says Bertrand. He adds that the wines of the Aube will have a more Burgundian character in 2015. 

He started picking on the 3rd of September, but with a small team of 8 pickers, which is half his usual team. They pressed only one Marc a day till yesterday, the first day where he will have pressed 2. He expects to do 3 Marc’s the next few days and to finish harvest at the beginning of next week. 

  

Vouette pinot noir in t the press

Bertrand uses a traditional 4000kg Coquard press which is on a pedestal about half a meter off the ground – this is very unusual. In fact it is the only one I have ever seen. He uses automated programs which test the speed of running of the juice at 200l, 500l and 900l to decided the most gentle pressure program to extract the 2550l. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – a morning with Michel Drappier

 

harvest at Drappier

The sunrise was glorious early this morning en route for Urville, where I arrived just about at the same time as the first grapes of the day. 

Harvest started with a handful of pickers over the weekend but really got into full swing yesterday. “Last week Monday I panicked, it was 34 degrees, the berries were shrinking  and I realized we had to bring the harvest forward. We thus decided on Friday as the start date. However, it rained the whole of Tuesday, and then the weather became significantly cooler. Thursday’s samples had slightly less potential alcohol that the ones we took earlier in the week, so we finally decided to start on Monday”, explains Michel. However a small team of about 10 pickers picked the young vine Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir this weekend, as the grapes were very ripe. The Pinot Gris came in at 13% potential alcohol, the highest alcohol potential that Michel or even his father André ever saw coming in. 

 

picking at le Cornellier

 This morning  the teams were picking Pinot Noir in Cornellier, and the grapes were sweet and healthy. Part of this plot also has the Petit Meslier and Arbanne grapes used in the cuvée Quatuor, but these will not be picked till next week. 

 

arbanne at le Cornellier

Drappier have 35 own employees in the vines as well as a team of Polish pickers which has been coming for the last 28 years. Everybody is paid by the hour. Michel elaborates: “I feel it is important to take the time to pick well. When we pay by the hour people tend to pay more attention which is better for the quality.”

Michel keeps a close eye on what is happening at the press, and decided on where the wines go once they have settled. Drappier have 4 8000 kg Coquard à met incliné presses, of which one is exclusively for their organic vineyard. This year Michel invested in small tanks for micro vinification per pressing. “It allows us to be a lot more precise”, says Michel.

All in all Michel is very happy this year, the grapes are ripe – even if there are some differences in degree – and very healthy. “If we can continue like this we really will have a wonderful harvest”, concludes Michel.

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Champagne harvest 2015 – the sweet Pinot Noir of the Clos des Goisses

 

pinot noir in the Clos descGoisses

This afternoon I spent a few hours with Charles Philipponnat in the Clos des Goisses; without a doubt one of the steepest and most beautiful vineyards of the Champagne region. 
The harvest started here today and is advancing a lot faster than expected. Charles explaines: “we harvested an extra plot, which was not planned. The guys are advancing faster as the yields are rather low.”

Today the average yield in the Clos des Goisses was around 7500kg/ha, only 3/4 of the appellation yields. “The cold weather right in the middle of flowering caused coulure resulting in hen and chicken. After this we had a very dry summer making it harder for the grapes to get the necessary nutrients, which slowed down the growth”, elaborates Charles. 

 

looking fown the Clos des Goisses

However the quality of the Pinot is impeccable and sorting was a rarity this first day of harvest.  The pickers are paid by the kilo but have received very strict instructions on what to pick and what not. They are paid 20% more to pick in the Clos des Goisses due to the steepness of the vnes and difficulty of the work. The same teams have been picking for more than 10 years and Charles is very happy with their work. 

 

pickers in the Clos drs Goisses

 The Pinot came in at 11.8% potential alcohol and tasted rich and sweet but with a good freshness. Charles explained that I should look at the colour of the foam – the whiter the foam the healthier the juice, and the foam I tasted was indeed snow white!!

The juice is pressed in a Bucher pneumatic press, then allowed to settle for about 18 hours before it is pumped into barrel. The barrels remain full of reserve wine till about an hour before they will be filled with the new must.

 

Charles Philipponnat checking the alcohol %

Once the must has been transferred to barrel the first fermentation is started using the IOC002 yeast. This strain was developed more than 100 years ago by Louis Bolland. Bolland was the chemist in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ as well as being the chef de caves for Philipponnat for more than 50 years. 
Even though harvest just started Charles is very happy about this years quality: ” it is a ripe and healthy year, and all great years from the past have been like that”  concludes Charles. 

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