Monday, 10 November 2014

Champagne 2014 - a mercurial year

" A Waltz in Three Tempi" is how Dominique Moncomble, the head of viticulture at the Comité de Champagne, describes the mercurial growing season of this maverick year in Champagne. The dance got off at a brisk Allegro - a warm spring and a superb flowering in early June of beautifully formed baby grapes raised spirits, with the added prospect of a decent sized crop for once. The mood music changed sharply in the last fortnight of July/the first two weeks in August as Nature brought the wettest coldest period, at this stage, for 20 years: Producers returning from their holidays thought they might be facing another lean, mean 2001. Then, Presto, the sun came out on September 1st and ushered in a warm, at times hot, 15-day+ Indian summer which saved the day, certainly from disaster.

Huge relief in the Champagne community greeted this change of fortune, leading the authorities to claim that at harvest time the vineyards were in textbook condition. Well up to a point, messieurs. With the see-saw, topsy turvy sequence of the 014 growing season, the big picture is, no surprise, more mixed and variable.August is almost as important as September in shaping Champagne with any claim to greatness. And those August downpours damaged the thinner-skinned varieties, causing the skins of Meunier (and to a lesser extent, Pinot Noir) to split - allowing the Drosophilia Asian fruit fly to infect the juice and turn it to vinegar. Not universally, to be fair:The Meuniers of the northern Montagne - Villedemange, Ecueil  - fared reasonably well but the farther west you go along the Marne Valley  the sorrier the picture looks.The picture for Pinot Noir and especially Chardonnay is a lot brighter - with the vital caveat of  getting the picking dates right,  a more important decision this year than in any I can remember since 2008. Why? Owing to the August cold, the level of malic acid was still shiveringly high in the first days of September. The vignerons were advised to wait. Even so, the official starting date was announced for September 8, which most savants think was too early..   Those producers who had the cool nerve to wait till the 12th,and even better the 15th, for the still
brilliant autumn sun will be rewarded.  It should be a vintage year for some of the best Chardonnay growers of the Côte des Blancs. And there are some brilliant Pinot Noirs on the Northern Montagne especially Verzenay and Verzy, in large part due to less August rain there than in other districts. It is  at last an excellent year for Aubois Pinot, especially the Barsuraubois, touching the border with Burgundy.

It would be foolish to rush to judgement before tasting the vins clairs next February. At least, the Champenois have reason to be cheerful and use their talent for selection of a crop that is fairly abundant but not too excessive. As Régis Camus, the magician of C et P Heidsieck said the other day,
" before the harvest notre morale etait dans nos chausettes. Now we can sleep at night!"

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