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Harvest 2011

Champagne Harvest 2011 BlogWelcome to the My Man In Champagne Harvest 2011 blog!  We'll be uploading new posts as often as we can over the next few weeks during the Champagne Harvest of 2011.

This is an exceptionally early harvest due to hot early start to the vintage so it will be exciting to see how things pan out and what the growers and producers make of the quality of the grapes.  Look out here for as-it-happens photography, information and the odd video.  Thanks for watching!

This is the third in a series of short videos following a day of the 2011 Champagne harvest for Champagne House Henriet-Bazin.

Here we see in a rather neat organization a long row of many large crates of Chardonnay grapes, post-hand-picked by the harvesters for Henriet-Bazin.

This organization is to help facilitate what we'll see in a forthcoming video, whereby the crates are more easily transferred from the alleyways from in between the rows of vines, to the foot of the vines where these crates will then be transferred to palettes...

 

This is the second in a short series of videos in which My Man In Champagne follows the Champagne House Henriet-Bazin with producer Marie-Noëlle, and their 2011 Champagne harvest.

In this particular video we see the Chardonnay grapes being cut by hand and transferred first to plastic bucket (in the past this was a basket), then to a larger plastic crate.

Pardon the "Franglais" in this clip, but "raisins" in French is in fact "grapes" in English...perhaps the author of this article did not have enough champagne with breakfast to be able to differentiate his languages for the filming.

As you'll note in the video, the harvesters are hunched over as the grapes tend to grow more in between the bottom and the middle of the vines, thus bending over more to efficiently cut the grapes is necessary.

A very difficult and meticulous job to be done correctly, as these harvesters clearly are exhibiting!

Great grape quality for these 2011 Chardonnay grapes, the producer Marie-Noëlle confided to My Man In Champagne.

Look out perhaps in a few years time for a vintage 2011 Blanc de blancs...

 

A bit of a conundrum in the making in some areas of Champagne

Chatting to a few champagne producers I'm hearing that the sugar levels in the grapes are barely up to what is needed and of course if the sugar is not there then the potential alcohol won't get up to the desired level either.

The weather over the past few days has been cool and fairly wet and of course that's not what we need to ripen the grapes and get that sugar count up, so several growers are holding back with the picking to see if the situation improves.

I have even heard that the picking and pressing in some areas have been stopped temporarily to allow more time for ripening the grapes.

On the other hand if you wait a few days in the hope of more sun and in fact you get more rain then that increases the risk of grey rot setting in, so there there's a fine line to tread between waiting and carrying on.

More news as soon as we get it

An exclusive first video in a series of six covering the 2011 Champagne harvest for the Champagne House Henriet-Bazin.

All videos are taken from some of the Chardonnay vines of Henriet-Bazin, in the Premier Cru village of Villers-Marmery, situated on La Montagne de Reims.

Villers-Marmery is distinctive in that it is but one of four villages on La Montagne de Reims which grows nearly entirely Chardonnay grapes, instead of the "typical" Pinot Noir grape variant which is otherwise more commonly-grown in this part of Champagne.

In this video, Edmund from My Man In Champagne, learns from producer Marie-Noëlle what the harvest this year can expect to yield from grapes to bottle.

Highlights include: great balance of acidity and sugar levels, in addition to a very good maturity for the grapes, and 2011 may very well be a vintage year for this Champagne House!

 

On August 27th, 2011, we view  the ongoing Champagne harvest from a very windy spot, over the valley of Verzenay and under the foot of G.H. Mumm's windmill.

Key points: the bustling of the harvesters in and all around the vines, the many white high-top vans dropping them off at their work stations, lots of vines and plenty of sun and wind.

Over the past week, weather conditions have been changing, challenging for both grapes and harvesters: a major heat wave turned almost overnight into rain and much cooler temperatures.

Under these very unfavourable working conditions, the harvesters cut the grapes, transfer the grapes to smaller baskets or plastic buckets, then transfer from basket or bucket to larger plastic crate, which are then piled onto palettes. All of this is done by hand!

These are just some of the hidden realities behind the scenes - what is required to produce a high quality champagne. 2011 is a promising vintage!

 

Small champagne houses only have a handful  of hectares to harvest, usually less than 10, so most of thet work  is done by hand

When you're dealing with hundreds of hectares though you need to resort to mechanisation.

Moët & Chandon, the biggest houses of them all, operates on a huge scale as you can see in this video.

 

Here we see the 'Débardeurs' 

They are the people who man-handle ( or woman-handle in this case) the boxes onto the tractor or van that takes the grapes off to the press house.

There are several ways of doing this. Here you'll see how most smaller houses do it

Tough work this. They're loading hundreds of the boxes per day and each one weighs about 50kg 

Coming up in the next video is how the  big brands tackle  this job

We're several days into the harvest now and the warm sunny weather of the first couple of days has turned to rain and more rain - we'll bring you news and pictures of that in forthcoming videos but for now let's take another fix of sunshine.

Grape picking certainly looks ( and is ) great fun, but don't imagine that it's not hard work too.

Here are a couple of videos that look at some of the work that's involved.

As the grapes are picked they are sometimes put in small baskets and then ferried to the ends of the rows in a sort of human chain and there they are emptied into boxes called 'bennes' that are stacked up at the end of the vineyard.

Sometimes the bennes are taken down into the vineyard to avoid all the carrying to and fro of small baskets. Then however you have to get the heavy bennes out of the vines. Here's one sort of contraption for doing that

By the way at one point in this first videdo I say that the 'bennes' hold 50kg of sugar - that should be 50kg of grapes!

In the next video you'll see what happens to the bennes 

The harvest was scheduled to start on 20th August and after all the anticipation I expected the pickers to be out there straightaway, but in fact No.

All was very quiet, probably because the weather forecast was fine and so there was no risk in leaving the grapes a day or two more so that the sugar levels could creep a little higher.

Anyway I found a small team of pickers from Champagne Philippe Martin at work down near the Marne River just outside Cumières and I grabbed the opportunity to have a word or two.

The first question I asked was how tough the work is on your back

These grapes are Pinot Meunier and as for the quality, well it's looking pretty good but it's too early to say if it will be a vintage year or not 

 

 

In the last video we saw how a small producer - Mrs. Taste -  trims excess foliage from the vines by doing what is called 'Rognage' by hand.

Take a look at how a giant like Moët & Chandon goes about the same task with an 'Effeuilleuse' 

This video was taken on August 24th just outside Ay

 

 

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