Picking is well under way in most parts of the region now and despite a gloomy start to the year, both in the meteorological sense and in people’s expectations for this year’s harvest, I am hearing some pretty positive comments from vignerons as they gather in the grapes.
Perhaps they are influenced by the lovely warm and sunny weather that we are still enjoying in Champagne, even though I am told that over the past couple of days it’s been raining in Paris, just 100 miles away from Champagne.
Something that’s a permanent feature of the harvest these days is the huge number of migrant workers - over 100,000 people - that descend on Champagne looking for work during this frantic period, and they are almost sure to find it. So much so that’s it not easy to find a French voice in the vines. This always throws me. I walk up to the pickers and ask politely in my best French if they mind me watching and filming and often they don’t understand a word I’m saying. Still, they get the gist of what I want and are happy to let me go ahead. I wonder if I’d get the same response if it were chucking it down with rain?
In the short video at the foot of this post you’ll see what was going on in Chouilly on 1st October in a plot that belongs to Mumm-Perrier Jouët
If you’re thinking that there are very few leaves on the vines, you’d be right. In fact just before the picking gets under way as many leaves as possible are blasted off the vines by compressed air. The machine that does this is an effeuilleuse (or de-leafer). It makes a big difference to the speed of the picking because particularly with the green Chardonnay grapes, it’s often very hard to see the bunches hidden behind thick clumps of foliage. Time is money when you’re picking and even more so when you are paying the pickers and conversely, time saved is money saved.
For a video of an effeuilleuse in action click here but be warned – it’s noisy!
Chouilly is not only a Grand Cru village but it is also one of the largest ‘cru’ in Champagne with some 500 hectares planted, almost exclusively with Chardonnay and about 200 vine growers. It sits right on the 49th parallel north and is home to Nicolas Feuillatte, the leading cooperative in Champagne.
Amongst the many excellent, smaller 'grower champagne' makers, Vazart Coquart, Michel Genet and Legras & Haas immediately spring to mind as being well worth your time to seek out and taste.
Chouilly was one of the villages affected by hail in July, so I’m sure that the ‘Geese’ as the local inhabitants are called, will be relieved at what looks like a very satisfactory harvest.
You’ll be able to see more videos and read more comments from the vignerons themselves as the grapes continue to come in over the next couple of weeks, so do come back soon