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Champagne 2020 to make rare ‘trilogy’ of top vintages

Champagne's 2020 crop has been tipped to become the third top vintage in a row, offering some producers a degree of cheer amid a difficult time.

Optimism is building around the Champagne 2020 vintage following one of the earliest starts to harvest on record, two weeks ahead of the 10-year average.

After a difficult year for the region’s growers and houses – alongside many across the wider wine and hospitality sector – there is now talk of 2020 completing a rare trilogy.

‘After an amazing 2018 and 2019, we are blessed to bottle another great year,’ said Hervé Dantan, chef de cave at Champagne Lanson.

‘Of course, we have to be patient and see how the wines will evolve, but we are very optimistic it will be another famous trilogy with three very good consecutive vintages,’ said, Dantan, who compared the situation to another hat-trick of top years: 1988, 1989 and 1990.

There may be fewer bottles of the 2020 vintage to go around once released, however, after growers and houses agreed to limit maximum yields to 8,000kg of grapes per hectare, or 230m bottles.

The regional wine council, Comité Champagne, said the tighter-than-usual limit followed ‘a historic drop’ in orders during the Covid-19 crisis.

Some producers were already facing a smaller harvest in 2020, due to bouts of hot summer weather and drought-like conditions.

‘2020 is the year of Pinot Noir,’ said Sébastien Le Golvet, chef de cave at Champagne house Henri Giraud.

‘[There are] not big yields this year but exceptional quality; when tasting the juices you could already sense extraordinary potential.’

At Champagne Taittinger, which owns 288 hectares of vines, vineyard manager Christelle Rinville said there was every reason to be delighted with harvest quality, citing ‘wonderful grapes’ with no botrytis.

Yields were in-line with the house’s June estimates, she said, noting ‘fewer bunches but larger ones which make picking considerably easier’.

Regarding the yield limit, fourth-generation family member Clovis Taittinger said, ‘We have pressed and now stocked/stored the totality of our own harvest.

‘We have not lost any grapes in any parcels and we have been able to make some reserves with magnificent quality grapes,’ said Taittinger, who is primarily responsible for sales and marketing at the house.

One much talked-about aspect of France’s 2020 wine harvest in general has been the early picking dates.

Rinville said Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier ripened a lot earlier this year, while Chardonnay required more patience.

Taittinger finished harvesting grapes in the Pinot Noir-dominant Côte des Bar area on 31 August. ‘This is a completely astonishing occurrence,’ said Rinville. ‘This has never happened before in the history of the house.’

At Lanson, Dantan said the 2020 growing season required more leg-work than 2018 or 2019, and not just because of extra Covid-19 sanitary measures.

‘To cope with the delay between the phenolic ripeness and sugar ripeness, we had to significantly increase the berry sampling and tasting in each plot,’ he said.

Harvest took longer than expected, due to varying levels of ripeness, he added.

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