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Champagne growing season ‘worst in decades’

Champagne has had the worst growing season for several decades and the prospects for the 2012 harvest look increasingly bleak.

Champagne’s 2012 growing season has been described as ‘unprecedented’

Even with improved weather in the run-up to harvest, expected to start around 20 September, yields will be significantly down on recent years with frost, hail, protracted and uneven flowering and problems with disease all having an adverse effect.

Frosts in mid-April destroyed nearly 10% of the appellation’s crop, with losses as high as 40% in some areas.

A severe hailstorm in early June in the Cote des Bar affected nearly 1,000 hectares of vineyard, with some producers losing everything and the damage estimated to have cut the 2013 harvest by one-third as well.

‘We have had frost and hail, while poor weather during flowering when it was cold and wet meant that took place over four weeks [instead of just a few days], resulting in a very poor fruit set and millerandage,” said Benoit Gouez, chef de cave at Moet & Chandon.

‘Milder, wet weather more recently has resulted in disease problems, particularly with oidium on the Chardonnay and mildew on Pinot Noir and Meunier. It’s not been a good year for the growers.’

‘We have had a terrible season with an awful climate from April to mid-July,’ said Benoit Marguet of Marguet Pere & Fils, a small producer in Ambonnay.

‘After frost in April, yields were down 20% and since then the rain has never really stopped. It’s been seven days a week work in the vineyard, fighting against mildew and powdery mildew.

‘We have probably lost at least 40% of the grapes – it’s been the worst weather season in Champagne for several decades.’

Both Marguet and Gouez agree, however, that good weather in the coming weeks could still see some healthy grapes produced.

Dominique Moncomble, director of technical services at the CIVC (Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne), described the season as ‘unprecedented’, adding that average yields would be down 30%, but that harvest quality was ‘not yet compromised’.

Written by Giles Fallowfield

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