The Champagne harvest for 2019 is predicted to shrink by 17% versus the 2018 crop, following challenging growing conditions.
If the French agriculture ministry’s fears prove correct, it will put the 2019 Champagne harvest 5% below the region’s five-year average.
“2019 has been a very challenging year between April frosts, two record-breaking heatwaves during the summer months of June and July, and drought throughout most of the year,” said Antoine Malassagne, co-owner of Champagne AR Lenoble.
Around 5000 hectares of Champagne vineyards were affected by frost this year, with a fifth of those suffering ‘100%’ damage, according to regional trade body Comité Champagne in July.
Malassagne said: ‘The yields are going to be significantly lower than they were in 2018 to say the least, and it will be more important than ever for our harvest team to do lots of sorting in the vineyards so that only the best and healthiest grapes are brought to our three Coquard presses in Damery.”
Champagne’s regional council, the Comité Champagne, has set maximum yields for 2019 at 10,200kg of grapes per hectare, down from a limit of 10,800kg in 2018. If producers cannot reach this level, they will be able to make up the difference by releasing wines from their reserve.
Speaking to Drinks Business, Bollinger’s cellar master, Gilles Descôtes described the Champagne harvest as “very small”.
He said he believed that producers across the region would fail to reach the limit set by the Comité Champagne, while noting that Bollinger’s vineyards, which amount to just under 180 hectares, had suffered a fall-off in yield by almost 20%.
However, there is still optimism for the quality of the grapes.
The LVMH group says its a “promising” Champagne harvest.
According to Vincent Chaperon, the Cellar Master of Dom Pérignon, the hot weather and absence of rain during maturation will result in “concentration and richness”, while the relatively high level of acidity in the grapes could lead to “a certain tension” in the future wines.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chef de cave and executive vice president at Louis Roederer, said on Twitter that the house was seeing good levels of freshness and ripeness in the first Chardonnay grapes to be harvestedin Vertus in the Côte des Blancs.
Champagne Barnaut, based in Bouzy in the Pinot Noir-dominant Montagne de Reims, said on Instagram that it was seeing very good ripeness, good acidity levels and excellent aromatic potential in grapes.
“What could be better?” it said.
Importers stockpile to avoid dry Brexit Christmas in UK
Champagne is being stockpiled in the UK following fears supplies may dry up post-Brexit and pre-Christmas.
Britain is champagne’s largest export market, ahead of the United States, with a share of 17%. Last year it bought more than 26 million bottles.
Most producers have boosted their shipments to the UK to avoid logistical hurdles or taxes on EU imports following a potential exit from the European Union on October 31.
“Growers and houses have overstocked in Great Britain to fill a possible border closure if it were to occur,” said Thibaut Le Mailloux, head of communication for trade body Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC).
“Champagne is champagne, it’s like the Eiffel Tower,” said Taittinger president Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. “The English have loved champagne for 300 years and, Brexit or no Brexit, they will continue to like it, this is something we have no question about.”
Wine critic Antoine Gerbelle told Yahoo Business there was enough champagne stockpiled to meet British demand for at least a year.
“There won’t be a champagne crisis at Christmas,” he said.
Beer, still wine and spirits are also being stockpiled.
According to a survey from the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (Cips), more than a fifth of companies have taken steps to import stocks earlier than usual to avoid any border disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
John Glen, an economist at Cips, said alcohol wholesalers in particular had started stockpiling imports from the EU in recent weeks, rather than waiting until November as usual.
“It’s particularly wine from the EU,” he said. “Companies have bought well ahead of Christmas this year, due to potential disruption at the ports and to try and avoid depreciation in the value of sterling against the euro.”
According to secret documents that the government was forced to make public recently, up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.
“The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40%-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,” the document warned.
This situation could last for up to three months, and disruption might last “significantly longer”, it added, with lorries facing waits of between 1.5 days and 2.5 days to cross the border.
Glen said: “Mass border disruption during this time could have a catastrophic impact. Businesses need to be provided with as much detail and support as possible to ensure they can survive the festive period.”