Written by Chris Mercer, Decanter Magazine
Champagne growers and houses have agreed to tighter limits on this year's grape harvest, following a 'historic' drop in shipments during the Covid-19 health crisis.
The Champagne 2020 harvest will have a yield limit of 8,000kg of grapes per hectare, it has been decided. That is equivalent to a production of 230 million bottles, said the regional wine council, the Comité Champagne.
It is one of the lowest limits in recent times, with yields set at 10,200kg/ha in 2019 and 10,800kg/ha in 2018.
Although drought during the 2020 growing season was expected to mean a smaller harvest this year in some areas, the move to effectively cut potential production is due to concern about consumer demand during the coronavirus health crisis.
‘Champagne, a wine of joie de vivre, conviviality and celebration, is particularly affected by the global economic crisis linked to Covid-19 and is suffering a historic drop in its shipments,’ said the Comité Champagne.
Champagne houses, many of which habitually buy in grapes from some of the region’s thousands of growers, were believed to have originally pushed for an even lower yield in 2020 – of between 6,000 to 7,000kg/ha.
‘The houses are the economic engine of the region, and are responsible for more than 70% of the total sales,’ said Caroline Henry, a Champagne expert and author, in a recent opinion article on her website discussing the yield mechanism used in the region. ‘However, [the houses] only own 10% of the land.’
Grape picking in this year’s harvest officially began on 17 August, two weeks ahead of the average start date over the past decade, said the Comité.
Conditions can still change, but some houses have already struck an upbeat tone on quality. ‘The vines are in rude health in every area,’ said Vitalie Taittinger, CEO of Champagne Taittinger.
‘The profile of this hot, dry year falls in-line with what we experienced in 2018 and 2019. Conditions have been good and crops less impacted by climate incidents such as frost and hail.’
The Comité Champagne added that growers and houses were working to ensure that around 100,000 seasonal grape pickers could be accommodated in-line with the latest health regulations and advice from the French government.
Several winegrower associations across France, including the Champagne growers’ union, SGV, have criticised the government for not providing enough financial support to the wine sector.
The Comité again highlighted ‘the lack of an appropriate response’ from French and EU officials in its statement today (18 August).