Ten years on from the vintage of the decade, 2018 has delivered a massive windfall to the region of Champagne thanks to an uncommon coming together of quantity and quality of yield.
Following a disappointing harvest in 2017, 2018 couldn’t be more different; bringing on high and healthy yields, rich in sugar and aromatic definition.
What began as extremely wet conditions turned into unusually hot and sunny days from April that were well above the norm. Between April and June there were 750 hours of sunshine, up from 630 hours on average. Budburst occurred from April 15 and full bloom from May 30 – some 10 days ahead of the 10 year average. Growth of vegetation was so rapid it sparked a mixture of joy and concern among the Champenois.
While most in the Marne were jubilant, those in the Aube suffered some early anxiety following the damaging effects of hailstorms and excess water, causing rot. As temperatures rose, growing conditions became favourable. However, in some instances, the heat brought about extreme water stress in areas of heavy clay soils, resulting in noticeably smaller bunches of grapes than those in the Marne which could draw on the water storing capacity of chalk subsoil. Still, the outcome has been exceptional for the Aube, resulting in healthy fruit with excellent levels of flavour concentration.
What began as extremely wet conditions turned into unusually hot and sunny days from April that were well above the norm. Between April and June there were 750 hours of sunshine, up from 630 hours on average.
Marketable yield was subsequently set at 10,800 kg/ha, the maximum for what may be turned into champagne as soon as possible; important in meeting worldwide demand. Additionally, 4,700 kg/ha could be harvested to replenish all-important reserves which suffered greatly in 2017.
Reserve stocks are a necessary consideration each year, legally obligating producers to set aside a percentage of their yield from each harvest as a kind of insurance against future poor years. In 2018, this brought the upper limit of the yield to 15,500 kg/ha; the maximum allowed under the rules instituted by the INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité).
The cut and thrust of harvest may be over for another year, but its potential is only just beginning. How far its aptitude extends is now up to the mastery of the chefs de cave and their teams. Time will tell as spring brings the first real opportunity to confirm the high hopes of what seems almost certain to be an exceptional vintage.
WORDS | Sara Underdown
PHOTOGRAPHY | Victor Pugatschew