Alsace and Champagne are the latest major wine growing regions to kick off their 2018 harvest early, thanks to hot weather throughout June and July.
Northern Europe is experiencing among the earliest harvests ever, with grape pickers across the Champagne region getting started on 21 August, according to the Comité Champagne. If we look further east to Alsace, winemakers were organising pickers to start harvesting for Cremant sparkling wines from 22 August.
In Alsace, the demand for pickers is such that some producers have expressed worries that they may not be able to find enough in August, as most are ready to work in September and October.
These follow on from another record-breaking early harvest over in Germany, mostly brought on by the heatwave across the summer months. While the Cremant harvest is underway, the Alsace Winemakers’ association (AVA) have stuck to a later date for harvesting the still wines in the region. This was due to start on 3 September.
The Champagne region has undergone a year of weather extremes. Growers endured record rainfall in winter, with 345mm falling during the period from November 2017 to January 2018. The Comité says that this beats the previous record of 338m set back in 1965.
After the rain came a long, very cold winter, followed by a warm period through flowering of the harvest in early June. And then came the heatwave with temperature and length of sunshine way above average.
Sense of optimism
All of this has led to a lot of optimism for the Champagne region, and the Comité has predicted yields of as much as 10,800kg per hectare. Yields are always set with an understanding of the market, and they are assuming that global sales will not increase much this year compared with 2017.
Over in Germany, the first grapes of 2018 were picked for the part fermented ‘Federweisser’ in the Rheinhessen region on 6 August. This followed Germany’s hottest April since records began.
Germany too is optimistic about the size of the harvest and its quality, although some growers dealt with intense water shortages and were forced to irrigate on young vines.
August’s rain has offered respite to some growers in Germany. Dr Ernst Loosen is an established grower in the Mosel region. He said: “After the rain of the past days, the berry size is increasing, and maturation is clearly noticeable and very advanced for this time of year.”
Before the rain this month, the ripening process had been slowed down by lack of water. Dr Loosen expects to start picking on 10 September, which is just one week before the normal date.
However, as grapes are ripening unevenly and at speed, this could make an intensively busy and pressured harvest season for producers. The window for harvesting perfect grapes is likely to be relatively small.
Overall, the heatwaves across northern Europe have certainly given a boost to wine growers and it will be a bumper year for many.