‘In July we expected bunches of 140g,’ said Bollinger cellar master Denis Bunner, ‘but at harvest they were averaging 200g – the record bunch is 1.2kg!’
Champagne’s system of supply management means that only the official yield – 11,400kg per hectare in 2023 – will be allowed to be turned into Champagne this year. However the amount that producers can hold in reserve ( used to boost future harvests if they are less generous ) has been raised by 2,000kg per hectare to make use of the generous crop. What is actually on the vines this year, though, is often much higher, with one producer admitting to 32,000kg per hectare in a plot of old Chardonnay vine .
Why is the yield so generous?
Firstly, there was little to no spring frost damage. Secondly, there was an exceptional flowering period at the beginning of June. ‘The Comité Champagne measures the pollen in the vineyards, and it was so high they thought there was an error,’ said Bunner.
A mixed July was followed by an August that proved somewhat cool and rainy, swelling the berries. ‘Normally the sugar is supposed to accumulate in August, but that didn’t happen as the grapes just kept growing,’ said Alice Paillard of Champagne Bruno Paillard. ‘Some small berries got squeezed, and at the end of August the botrytis started,’ she said.
Bunner added, ‘Nature was very generous at the beginning, but capricious at the end.’
Chardonnay – the star of the vintage?
Drier conditions in the Côte des Blancs , together with Chardonnay’s thicker skins, meant this area escaped the worst of the disease pressure (as it did in 2011 and 2017). The signs are good, with growers widely reporting sugar levels between 10 and 11 degrees potential alcohol, clean grapes and moderate but not abnormally low acids.
For Jérôme Legras of Champagne Legras & Haas in Chouilly, the year has echoes of 2004 for Chardonnay, a vintage still showing well today (and a vintage with similar – if not quite as exceptional – generosity of yield). Bunner also said he is ‘very confident’ about the quality of Chardonnay this year.
Pinot Noir and Meunier – more uneven
The beginning of September saw a rapid increase in temperature, quick veraison (when berries turn from green to red) and, finally, rising sugar levels. ‘We were lucky that the botrytis mostly dried out,’ said Paillard, who remains optimistic despite having to reject one press load of Pinot Noir from a cooler, more humid zone in the Montagne de Reims at the beginning of the harvest.
Much of the Grande Vallée and the drier terroirs of the Montagne de Reims appear to have fared relatively well, though. Bollinger’s Côte aux Enfants vineyard, which provides red wine for the house’s rosés, was ‘fully ripe, with brown seeds,’ according to Bunner.
The Pinot Noir from earlier-ripening sites in the northern Montagne area was reaching maturity by the 14 or 15 September, though many producers are wary of what Bunner calls the ‘shrivelling’ of berries that was widely seen due to the heatwave during the first week of September.
‘The heatwave degraded the sanitary state of the grapes, but it’s less dangerous than the rain,’ said Rémi Leroy of his eponymous domaine in Meurville in the Côte des Bar , where the Chardonnay was ‘magnificent’ and the Pinot Noir had ‘no mouldy or vinegary tastes’ despite an ‘average sanitary state,’ he said.
It is Meunier , though, that is the most delicate of Champagne’s grapes – yet also the one planted in some of its more humid terroirs. At Champagne Christophe Mignon in Festigny, Loann Mignon was making sure only healthy grapes were picked, and that pickers were selecting for ripeness, too. Cutting open a dark purple bunch of Meunier grapes, he noted how the inside was still partially green, and how the bottom of the bunch was not…
Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine-news/champagne-harvest-2023-a-bumper-crop-511943/