Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2008 Review: Champagne Vintages: 1995...1996...2002...2008?

Region: Champagne
Grade: B+

Part of making wine is waiting to see what cards Mother Nature will deal. The 2008 vintage in Champagne was very nearly a bust, until an ace was dealt in September and two weeks of beautiful weather at harvest provided a winning hand. It was not an easy vintage, but producers are optimistic overall.

The growing season got off to a rocky start in spring, with cool and wet weather that promoted the spread of parasites and mildew. Some producers were constantly on watch for mildew but avoided it. Others were dogged by it. Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon of Louis Roederer Champagne called 2008 "The battle between man and mold, [requiring] almost superhuman effort on the part of the growers" to stamp it out.

The weather in June also caused problems with flowering. "June was hot and cold, oscillating between 90° F and 55° F," said Jean-Baptiste Cristini, of Champagnes Salon and Delamotte. "This caused fragile flowering and fertility." As a result, yields were slightly lower than recent years, particularly in Pinot Noir, and clusters were generally smaller, with thicker skins.

July and August brought cool and cloudy weather, with some rain increasing the risk of mildew again. "The lack of sun inhibited the maturity of the grapes somewhat," said Stanislas Henriot of Champagne Henriot. Producers were worried as harvest approached. Fortunately, things quickly changed for the better. "We witnessed a minor miracle," said Henriot. "Incredible weather returned on the eve of harvest and stayed with us throughout."

Harvest began around Sept. 15 for most growers and was marked by dry, sunny and windy days combined with cool nights. Hervé Deschamps of Perrier-Jouët reported that the sunny and windy daytime weather helped concentrate the sugars and promote physiological maturity in the grapes, while the cool nights provided good protection for the natural acidity necessary for high quality Champagne.

Although this year was a challenge for many producers, it saw a return to a growing season and weather more typical of a northern winegrowing region. Yields vary from village to village within the region, but average 14,000 kilograms per hectare (roughly 5.57 tons per acre). Growers and houses that made more than the maximum 12,400 kilograms per hectare (4.94 tons per acre) are allowed to keep the additional yield—as much as 1,600 kilograms per hectare more—as a reserve for use in future vintages.

As always, producers are hesitant to say whether or not 2008 will be a vintage year, as most will not begin tasting their vin claires until early next year. But in general, there's a sense of optimism. Even if it is not a vintage year for every house, it is sure to be a solid contribution to non-vintage Champagne for several years to come.



No comments:

Post a Comment