Tuesday, January 28, 2014

2011 Review: Champagne Vintages: 2011 Not a Good Year?


With a long and storied past, producers in Champagne probably thought they had seen it all—until 2011 came along. “This was an atypical year, the likes of which we have never seen in Champagne,” said Régis Camus, chef de caves for houses Charles and Piper-Heidsieck.

The bizarre nature of 2011 was its extreme variability. The growing season started rapidly, with extremely warm weather in April and May. The result was an early flowering—about three to four weeks ahead of the normal schedule. This timing put 2011 on par with the very hot 2003 initially, according to Jean-Baptiste Cristini, export director for Salon and Delamotte.

But the weather shifted gears in June, and for two months temperatures were lower than average and rain came regularly. The summer’s rainy weather saved what could have been another 2003 for Champagne. Nonetheless, producers were happy to see warm weather return in August. And despite cooler conditions during summer, some producers started picking as early as Aug. 19, the earliest date in the region’s history. Most began a few days later, ruining vacation plans for many people.

Unfortunately, the weather at harvest was unpredictable. “Right at the beginning we were lucky to have some sun, then the rain set in, which reduced the potential alcohol content and slowed down—and even stopped—the harvest," said Jean Rémy Rapeneau of Charles de Cazanove.

These variable conditions meant that maturity varied greatly from plot to plot. Rapeneau said they checked maturity levels every day, adjusting their plans for the next day at the last minute based on the results and ultimately picking in a pattern that was the opposite of any previous harvest. This variability extended to quality as well, at least among the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. “I saw beautiful Chardonnay everywhere, [but the] Pinots were more contrasting. Even in the same village, a lot of differences,” said Alice Paillard of Bruno Paillard.

Paillard believes the variability of the Pinot and other factors may have resulted in a great deal of selection for many houses, leading to smaller-than-expected reported yields. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), Champagne’s trade body, set yields at 12,500 kilograms per hectare, but several houses indicated lower yields of about 10,500. While the quality of 2011 may not be sufficient to declare a vintage—producers are waiting to see—it should provide a fine base for the region’s non-vintage wines.



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