After many tests and repeat tests performed by the technical specialists at the Champagne Bureau (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, or CIVC) based in Epernay, France, yesterday the much awaited official decision was released publicly for which dates the 2011 Champagne harvest will begin.
The starting dates differ based on the village, and more importantly, the grape type.
Generally-speaking, those villages across the Champagne region which produce the Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grape varieties, will commence earlier than the harvesting of the Chardonnay grape variety begins.
This has to do with the requirement that the sugar levels necessary for producing a 10 to 11 percent alcohol are attained before the harvesting may begin. A key point to note is that, as with most champagnes which are blended (assemblé), the mix of levels of sugar in direct relation to the level of acidity is crucial to ensure the quality of the grapes to be used from the harvesting to make champagne, and thereby the taste of the champagne.
The balance of sugar and acidity is key in the harvesting of grapes. The higher the sugar levels, the higher the percentage of alcohol, thus yielding a final product which will be "heavier" in the taste, offering a more short-lived burst of intense flavour, but which will not last as long in the mouth. On the other hand, the lower the sugar levels, the lower the alcohol percentage, and the "greener" the taste will be, offering in terms of taste an immediate "harsher" flavour, but permits the producer to mature over a longer period of time the champagne in their cellars. So as with much in life, it all comes down to selecting the right level of balance, in this case between sugar and acidity levels.
As the Pinot Meunier and Noir variants mature in terms of sugar levels more quickly then the Chardonnay variant, these will naturally be harvested first, with rare exception.
For the complete list of 2011 Champagne harvest starting dates, with village and grape variety breakdown, please click here. (source: CIVC)
More insight to the 2011 Champagne harvest can be found here on My Man In Champagne, as it happens!