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Champagne copes with ‘difficult’ vintage

The 2011 Champagne vintage is being hailed as one of the most unusual in the region's history, as vignerons deal with the aftermath of one of the most difficult growing seasons on record.

Champagne: ‘challenging’ season

Oenologist Herve Jestin, who consults for several properties in the Côte des Blancs, including Russian-owned Chateau D’Avize, told Decanter.com that an unusually warm spring followed by a cool, wet summer and intermittent hail storms would present many challenges for the region’s winemakers.

‘It is hard to imagine a more difficult harvest. Some growers have lost a considerable amount of their fruit due to hail damage; those who have not now may face problems of dilution and rot in the winery.’

Scientists and officials at the CIVC, the Champagne trade body, have been surprised by the slow maturation of vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, with grape sugar levels failing to increase in the second half of August, despite a week of relatively warm weather.

‘This is the first time on record that sugar levels have not increased during sunny weather. Scientists at the CIVC are exploring the problem but currently no one has any answers,’ Jestin admitted.

Many growers across the region began harvesting on 26 August in torrential rain, raising concerns about grape rot and dilution.

Eric De Souza, a grower based in Avize, told Decanter.com, ‘We have some concerns about the structure and weight of the 2011 wines. Nonetheless, the wines are balanced by good acidity.’

According to Jestin, flowering had taken place a month earlier than in 2010, contributing to the CIVC decision to harvest early.

‘Chaptalisation [the addition of sugar] seems highly likely’, he added.

Written by James Lawrence

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