And so it began - on the 21st of August in some areas which was very early! The 2018 weather has been exceptional and the harvest for Champagne can certainly be described as exceptional. Two weeks of frenzied activity dominate the special region in northern France where all the grapes are harvested by hand. This requires teams of pickers to be recruited and shipped into the region. It is an amazing time and each house, producer/negociant or vigneron will tend to use the same gangs of itinerant workers that travel to the region just for this purpose, year in year out. And in true Gallic fashion, the 35 hour working week legislation is ignored (or waived by special government decree) during harvest time!
Without doubt 2018 is an outstanding year. The quality of the pressings was amazing as was the quantity; various producers have been reporting yields as high as 18,000kg per hectare. Whilst the actual amount that can be incorporated in champagne blends is much lower (restricted to 10,800 kg/h by the regional governing body, the CIVC) what this does mean is that all the producer stocks are full. The CIVC have also permitted producers to retain 4,700kg/h for their reserve wines (still wine that is retained for use in future years either blended in part to make the Non-Vintage cuvee, or in case a future harvest should fail). it is understood that many producers with reserve wine stocks from the unexciting 2016 and 2017 harvests have junked these in order to restock by capitalising on the exceptionality of 2018 and therefore have very great quality to fall back on in future years if necessary.
The pressed juice was also very forward with natural sugar in the grapes giving potential for a natural alcohol level of 11 degrees or more - and this before the cold fermentation; I would expect alcohol levels to be in the mid 12s or even 13 for the finished champagnes that come from this year. Interestingly, I tasted a few remnant grapes still on the vines and they were astonishingly sweet - and delicious! In champagne the harvesting is all done by hand, as I have referred to above, but I understand this year that such was the abundance of fruit and because it is not allowed for fruit to remain on the vines, several vineyards were second cut by machine with the grapes being discarded on the ground.
And what does this all mean, in reality:
1. That the supply side of champagne is in robust health; a great year likely to yield a full 310m bottles, as well as producers fully well stocked with excellent quality reserve wine;
2. Expect to see Cuvee 2018 Millesime (vintage) available to purchase from 2022 onwards ("vintage" champagne must be aged in its bottle for a minimum of 3 years by edict of the CIVC, but most producers do not release until at least 5 or more post harvest bottling).
So that's all good news then! We should look forward to producers making interesting cuvees within minimal interference which, as one producer explained to me, was because "nature has given us the very beautiful wine to start with". Obviously, there are plenty of stages (and years) to go before these bottles hit the shelves, not least the lengthy ageing in the cellars beneath Epernay (and all over the region) but at least the start is so very promising. And quite frankly that really does justify a quick snifter - all in the furtherance of great quality control, obvs! Pip Pip!