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The Champagne harvest

Published:  23 July, 2008

The Champagne harvest is just about complete, and the maximum permitted yield of 13,000 kilos per hectare (kg/ha) should be reached right across the appellation. This was the level set by the Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in early September, just before the harvest officially began on the 12th, with 1,500kg/ha of this, the equivalent of around 41 million bottles, being put into the qualitative reserve'.

The 11,500kg/ha given the appellation is the equivalent

of around 312 million bottles, since the productive vineyard has risen slightly to close on 32,000ha (it was 31,570ha

in 2004).

With Champagne shipments continuing at around the

same rate as in 2004 - they were up just 0.76% in the

first half of 2005 - this means that Champagne production should stay ahead of demand. Shipments reached 300.62 million bottles in 2004. The balance of just over 10 million bottles should, the ngociants hope, stop prices for grapes and vins clairs from getting too high. It should also mean that the major houses are more easily able to buy the volume of material they need to produce their brands.

After the 2004 harvest, the growers and cooperatives held on to considerably more material than they needed to replace their own stocks, assuming a similar level of future sales. As a result, the ngociants were short of material. The solution to this problem was to release at the end of February 2005 the equivalent of around 1,000kg/ha from the qualitative reserve, some 26.86 million bottles, to make up the ngociants' shortfall. With 1,500kg/ha to go into the qualitative reserve again, the ngociants will effectively have this option once more if they can't purchase sufficient grapes and vins clairs to

supply their brands.

While it is still too early to gauge the price being paid for grapes from this 2005 harvest, the final payment made for the 2004 crop on 5 September was at a level of e4.96 for the grands crus blancs, e4.91 for the grands crus noirs (100% crus) and e4.18 per kg for the crus classified at 80%. While

the grand cru figures haven't changed, the price for grapes from areas such as the Cte des Bar has risen from e4.08.

Yves Bnard, president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC), says: The prices paid for the 2004 harvest represent an increase over 2003 of 3-6%. The recommendation of myself and Patrick le Brun [president of the main growers' union, the SGV] for 2005 is that prices should remain the same, without any increase, and the growers are more or less happy with that position because they know we must be cautious about pricing. We hope we will see no increases, but we won't have a definitive answer until September 2006, when the last payment for this crop is made.'

Whatever happens on price, the quality of the harvest generally looks good. According to Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, chef de cave at Louis Roederer: Overall quality is good-plus, with very sound grapes. We should be able to vintage 2005, but it's still too early to say more. There was some question about rot on Pinot Noir and Meunier before the harvest, but the beautiful vintage weather - sunny and dry with cool nights - has stopped the rot, and with a good selection at picking, we had clean grapes on the presses. I think 2005 should be a "classic" Champagne vintage.'

Avoiding any problem with rot was made easier, since agronomic yields of between 14,000-17,000kg/ha meant pickers could be selective and leave diseased bunches. Rain

in August swelled grape bunch weights to a norm of 300g, and bunches weighing more than 1kg were recorded in Cumires.

Potential alcohol level for Louis Roederer at the end of vintage is around 10%. Chardonnay is definitely riper than the others,' says Lecaillon. Pinot Noir also did very well. Because of the beautiful weather we have had during vintage, it kept ripening all along. Meunier is more variable and had some difficulty ripening in certain terroirs. The acidity level is around 6.7g/l [sulphuric acid], very close to 2000 and 2004.'

Dominique Demarville, director of wines and vines at Mumm and Perrier Jout, who expected picking to finish on

28 September, was nervous at the start of September, because the humid and hot weather threatened to encourage too much botrytis. However, the excellent conditions from 17 September, with very cold, dry nights and lots of sun, has stopped the rot and enabled the grapes to ripen fully and fast. The percentage of grapes with botrytis - even in the worst-affected parcels - is still less than 20%. Many parcels are completely free from rot. Chardonnay, at 10-10.5% potential alcohol, is tending to be riper than the other grape varieties. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are around 9.5%, but with some exceptional variations.'

Fabien Henry at Chanoine says: 2005 will be the year of Chardonnay, with alcohol levels at 11% in some areas and grapes in perfect condition. Before the harvest, we thought the sugar-acidity balance was close to 1990, but it may be closer to 1989 - also a very good vintage.'

For Elizabeth Chartogne Taillet in Merfy, it is too early to judge the quality - overall it is good to very good. The acidity level is almost the same as last year, and the alcohol higher. We had a little rot, about 10% in the red grapes - much more in the Meunier than the Pinot Noir. We left those grapes on the floor.'

Jean-Herv Chiquet at Jacquesson reports a large variation in ripeness levels.

We got from 9.2% in the worst Pinot Meuniers to 11.5% in

the Chardonnays of Corne Bautray. We have never seen such a difference between the best ones - Chardonnays, which are experiencing a truly great vintage, both in the Grande Valle and the Cte des Blancs - and the worst ones - Pinot Meuniers, which are barely average.'