This month’s Champagne Bulletin (August) is a few days late coming out because I wanted to wait until 2nd September when the official harvest dates in Champagne were announced.

Many of you will not know that, like so many things in Champagne, even the date on which you can start picking is regulated.

Every year the Comité Champagne publishes a list of start dates for every village within the Appellation area; in addition, the start date for each grape variety is stipulated too. You can see an extract from the official timetable in the screenshot below.

Harvest dates


This make perfect sense when you consider the fact that the Champagne region covers an area that is approximately 120 kilometres from the northern most village to the southernmost and roughly the same distance from east to west. Inevitably the weather conditions, and hence the rate at which the grapes reach full maturity, are going to vary considerably and so applying the same start date to everyone would make little sense.

Champagne area


Although the dates are announced quite late in the season – in the case of this year, only about 5 days before picking can start – this doesn’t mean that the dates are decided in a hurry. A great deal of work has been going on over the previous month or more, in villages across the length and breadth of Champagne, to monitor the health of the grapes and the pace at which they are developing.

The size and weight of the bunches are measured; the sugar and acidity levels of the grapes are analysed as well as the potential alcohol content. Likewise, the presence of any sign of disease is carefully watched and weather forecasts meticulously consulted. In this way, by the time the official start dates are announced a broad agreement amongst the vignerons has been reached. If any individual grape grower feels that he or she must start picking before the official start date, they can ask for a what is called a ‘dérogation’ to do so.

As this year’s harvest approaches there is more excitement than usual with the 2023 being hailed by some as something very special although others are more cautious and frankly, a little confused by some of the anomalies that are appearing.

The weather since the beginning of the year has been relatively kind to Champagne: no major damage due to spring frosts, mild weather from then on that allowed the flowering to take place as expected and no dramatic events at all. All this means that there will be plenty of grapes to pick which is welcome news because champagne makers still need to rebuild stocks after a few years in which demand has considerably outstripped supply.

What’s more, the weight of the bunches is breaking all records. In some cases, the weight per bunch is reaching 220 – 240 grams which compares with an average from previous years of about 180 grams per bunch. This phenomenon is due, at least in part, to the increased rainfall in August which, on the positive side, has plumped up the grapes to give more juice, but on the negative side, has diluted the sugar content.

 Ripe grapes

In addition, the rain coupled with warm weather has produced high levels of humidity in recent weeks that have caused outbreaks of mildew and rot. This will require pickers to be extra vigilant so as not to cut any bunches that are badly affected.

Pourriture 2


The big question that all champagne makers will have to decide on is whether to start picking as soon as possible or to wait a few days more.

Starting early might mean that the health of the bunches is optimised by avoiding the risk of rot becoming more widespread, although that choice could mean that the potential alcohol level is below the generally accepted minimum levels of 10 degrees.

On the other hand, waiting a few days more runs the risk of more widespread rot setting in, but increases the chances of the sugar, and hence the potential alcohol, levels nudging up to and over the optimum benchmark.

As ever, this year’s harvest will be one to watch with great interest, but by the end of September much will be revealed.

I'll report back in a few weeks and keep you updated

All the best


Jiles Halling