Representatives from two of the world’s top Champagne houses recently expressed differing opinions, concerning the quality of the 2016 vintage. Ideal Wine Company reports.
The grapes used in Champagne production are grown in the eponymous French region. Consequently, these products are influenced by the Champagne area’s terroir, which encompasses everything from soil to weather. So depending on weather conditions, some years’ vintages are better than others.
Regions across France experienced adverse – sometimes even bizarre, weather conditions this year, impacting its grape harvest. For examples, heavy frosts hit Burgundy in the spring, with projections showing that they damaged 46% of the region’s vineyards by over 30%. The Champagne region did not escape these adverse weather patterns, so have they damaged grape production and quality?
Assessing opinion, The Drinks Business found it to be divided. Commenting, AR Lenoble’s co-owner, Anne Malassagne, said: “It’s too early to decide if 2016 will be a vintage year but the quality of the grapes we picked was unexpected. We were very worried in the middle of August but we enjoyed three weeks of sunny days and cool nights that helped to keep the acidity levels high enough. We had perfect conditions in September apart from a few days of rain, which didn’t cause any damage.
Going on, she said: “We started picking our Pinot Noir and Meunier on 15th September then had to stop for a few days to wait for the Chardonnay to get ripe enough. Some of the Chardonnay was a bit too sweet so we blocked malolactic fermentation this year. The South of Champagne was hit hard by April frosts and some estates lost almost all of their crop to hail in villages like Urville. Our crop is down by about 20% on 2015 but we’re very happy with the quality of the grapes we picked.”
However Regis Camus, the Chef De Cave of Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck, expressed a contrasting opinion. Explaining his position further, the Chef De Cave said: “The 2016 vintage was a nightmare. We had snow in April and very low temperatures in the vineyards. Nearly all of the vines in the Côte des Bar were killed by frost – production in Champagne is down by 15%. We had lots of rain in May, June and July, which led to an explosion of mildew like I’ve never seen before.”
“Thankfully the August heat stopped the march of the mildew. The grapes were tiny though and were drying out on the spot. Our harvest was down by 33%. Pinot Noir and Meunier ripened faster than Chardonnay, which is unusual. In fact, our Chardonnay ripened at the right time but our Pinot ripened early. It will be an interesting challenge trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together and make our Cuvée Brut from the 2016 vintage. We will have to rely more heavily on reserve wines and will use at least 20% in the blend,” potentially damaging this products renowned quality.
The only way we’re going to be able to assess the quality of the 2016 vintage, therefore, is by actually sampling these Champagnes. If you want something to measure them against, you could buy top Champagnes from Ideal Wine Company. Visit the Champagnes list on our official website and you’ll find bottles from prestigious brands like Dom Perignon, Salon and Krug, providing you with true luxury!
Image by Simon Law.