Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2010 Review: Champagne Vintages: 1995...1996...2002...what?


Growers and producers are describing the 2010 growing season as a dramatic vintage that had the Champenoise fearing they’d never see rain at one moment, awash in it the next and harvesting fast and furiously when the time came. For those who were quick on their feet and practiced severe sorting and selection in certain cases, the results look promising. But there’s certainly a wait-and-see attitude as producers look toward their winter tastings after the first fermentation.

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, technical director at Louis Roederer, describes 2010 as, “A year of contrasts, if ever there was one.” That reflects both the ever-changing weather and the different approach needed for Chardonnay versus the Pinots (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier).

The year began with a very cold winter and cool spring, followed by dry and warm weather in the early summer—conditions favorable for healthy development of the grapes. But as the summer continued without any rain, some vines began to suffer from hydric stress, stopping the fruit's maturation.

Then the skies opened up on Aug. 14, and the region received, “About three months of summer water in three days,” says Jean-Remy Rapeneau of Champagne Charles de Cazanove. That kick-started the maturation process. Berries grew rapidly, and some burst, triggering the development of botrytis in some cases. The rain also continued on and off until the start of harvest on Sept. 13. “It was a race against time to bring the grapes to peak ripeness before they spoiled on the vine,” says Lécaillon. Harvest began with pickers racing to bring fruit in, selecting only the healthy fruit, when necessary, with additional sorting later.

“The watchword for this harvest was sorting,” says Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon. “Fortunately, weather conditions improved, for a full week of gloriously dry, cool and windy days. The evolution of botrytis stopped, the bunches affected had been dried, and the maturation continued to progress at a fairly high speed.”

The sorting and selection reported by many growers was mostly limited to the Pinots—Pinot Noir, a thin-skinned grape, and Pinot Meunier, a grape with tight clusters—both attributes that make the grapes more susceptible to botrytis. Pinot Noir fared better than Meunier, but overall yields for both were down considerably, as much as 50 percent by some reports.

The success story of 2010 is clearly Chardonnay, a grape that holds its own against botrytis. Didier Gimonnet of Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, whose vines are 98 percent Chardonnay, happily reported that they left only 10 percent of the harvest behind in the vineyards due to selection. “I am really confident about the 2010 wines,” says Gimonnet. “I think 2010 could be like 1995.”

For Chardonnay, this may be the case. But for the Pinots it will be a matter of blending parcels in order to find balance, or relying on a higher amount of Chardonnay to add ripeness to this vintage’s crisper Meunier. “The blending and the talent of the winemakers are the key elements to produce Champagne at its best [in 2010],” says Rapeneau.



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