2011 Champagne Harvest
Door Michael Edwards
In more than 20 years of closely observing harvest conditions in Champagne, 2011 for me will go down as the joker in the pack, full of surprises – some of them troubling, until the last grape was picked and more recently as the vins clairs (still-wines)begin to reveal their capricious, changing natures. A clearer view will, I hope, emerge next week when three groups of artisan producers show their 2011s, followed by a tasting at Louis Roederer, the blue-chip house peerless for its impeccable husbandry of the vineyards in a 218 ha estate. The early growing season from April through May was unseasonably hot.
The most bizarre conditions I can ever remember
The thermometer in Reims eventually soaring to 93◦Fahrenheit on 28 June, the heat precipitating serious hail damage in the Côte des Blancs that evening. The Champenois authorities soon settled into a premature mind-set of expecting an early harvest. But Nature had a cruel laugh in store: as in much of eastern France, Champagne was very cold and damp in July and early August was a topsy turvy sequence of sun, rain and wind, unsettling the growers. The CIVC still clung to advising an early start to picking, as certain Meunier vineyards in the Marne were having trouble with optimal ripeness and the threat of botrytis. The starting gun was fired about 19th August, but the Chardonnay globally wasn’t ripe and the great Pinot Noir sites needed more time. Friday the 26th August was a total washout, Moët for
the first time suspending picking over the weekend, as did Jacquesson, restarting on the 29th August.
This was the date when the great growers of Chardonnay and Pinot – Vergnon, Fourny, Selosse, Henri Giraud – unsheathed their secateurs in earnest: keeping their nerve paid dividends, for they were rewarded with an extra degree of maturity over the following 10 days until the new moon on September 9. Thereafter, it seems that some significant degrading in the health of the grapes rapidly spread. The picking date is absolutely crucial in 2011.
Eight months on, the picture is very mixed. Speaking with Richard Geoffroy of Dom Pérignon on January 31 in Epernay and Julie Cavil of Krug’s Clos du |Mesnil last week, both winemakers were initially quite positive about the Chardonnays as they were tasted straight from the vat. But now the duo is less sure, as quite a lot of the white grapes lack acidity. Pinot Noir may have a better result; and good old Meunier, foolishly denigrated at harvest time as being an unsuitable grape in an era of ‘Climate Change’, has confounded the doubters in the right, more limestone and sandy soils of Ludes, Ormes and Gueux, where young masters like François Huré, Raphael Bérèche and Jérôme Prévost have made excellent wines. 0n verra. Watch this space.
© Michael Edwards