A few early thoughts about the 2020 harvest in Champagne

Case of grapes and background640The start dates for picking were announced last Saturday 15th August and a quick glance at what, at first sight, seems to be simply a list of dates, can tell us quite a bit more about what happens behind the scenes.

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Each village and each grape variety is given its own specific start date. Consequently, there is quite a wide range of dates ranging from as early as 17th August for some villages in the Aube region, to as late as 30th August for the village of Grauves in La Côte des Blancs.

In general, it’s the vignerons in the Aube who will start picking first and those further north, near Reims and Epernay, who are being told to wait a week or so longer, and it is Pinot Noir and Meunier that will be picked a couple of days before Chardonnay.

Strictly speaking, picking shouldn’t start before the official start dates, but if a vigneron has a compelling reason to start earlier he or she can apply for a ‘dérogation’  - special permission to start earlier -  and one vigneron, in the village of Buxeuil in the Bar Séquannais region, did just that and started harvesting on Thursday 13th August. I suspect that this may be an all-time record.

The official start dates are only a guideline and it is up to each grower to decide on the start date that is suitable in his/her vineyards. This decision is based on a number of factors: the most obvious consideration is the maturity of the grapes in terms of the level of sugar (potential alcohol) and of acidity. Both these indicators are looking exceptionally good this year and already some people are suggesting that the wines from 2020 will be of exceptionally high quality.

In addition, the growers also have to take into account the weather forecast, the rate at which the grapes are ripening and the threat of disease. Fortunately, the latter is very low this year.

The watchword this year seems to be ‘ Don’t rush’ – just because you are allowed to start picking doesn’t mean that you should start immediately. The more prudent growers seem prepared to wait a few days until they judge the condition of the grapes to be perfect in terms of phenolic maturity, in other words, what the grapes taste and smell like.

The data on sugar and acid content will give an indication about this, but the most conscientious growers will be out in the vineyards every day picking a few grapes and tasting for themselves. No matter what advances are made in the realms of science there is, as yet, nothing to replace the skill and experience of the grape growers and wine makers.

More news coming soon.