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Champagne battles mildew to protect 2021 vintage

Champagne makers have faced a fight to protect their crop from severe outbreaks of mildew fungus in recent weeks, as new figures suggest sales have rebounded in 2021.

As if the spring frosts weren’t enough of a challenge, recent heavy rain has led to Champagne growers and winemakers working around the clock to try to protect their 2021 harvest from severe outbreaks of mildew fungus.

‘The earth is so wet that it is even impossible to enter the rows of vines to work the soil and the leaves,’ said Anne Malassagne, co-owner at family-run producer AR Lenoble.

‘The [Pinot] Meuniers are so far more affected than the Pinots [Noir] and the Chardonnays are, for the moment, the most spared,’ she told Decanter via email this morning (29 July).

‘We are working tirelessly weeks and weekends to protect our vines and future grapes.’

It’s too soon to make precise predictions about the harvest, and the impact of challenging weather is rarely uniform.

‘Nothing is done yet,’ said Malassagne. ‘Everything depends on the weather forecast by mid-September. Let us pray to heaven that it will become more merciful.’

Maxime Toubart, deputy chairman of the Comité Champagne, told Reuters this week that he feared half of the Champagne 2021 crop may have been lost following severe frost earlier in the year and the recent mildew outbreaks.

He said there was not expected to be any immediate pressure on Champagne supplies, however, because producers have reserves.

Despite concerns, Champagne industry leaders have set a maximum yield for the 2021 harvest at the more normal level of 10,000kg per hectare, up significantly on 2020.

The move follows a ‘dramatic rebound’ in demand for Champagne around the world.

Champagne shipments in the first half of 2021 hit record levels as merchants and restaurants sought to replenish cellars, said the Comité Champagne last week.

Shipments were up by 50% versus the first half of 2020, when demand sank to ‘historic lows’ following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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