Champagne lovers may be disappointed

Production of Champagne this year is expected to decrease significantly as crops are suffering from what is believed to be the worst grape-growing season in decades.

Experts in the industry are not confident that harvests will provide useable fruits, due to ravaging weather conditions in France that have seen grapes and leaves attacked by stinging frosts, hail, disease, mildew and unrelenting rain.

Frosts during April destroyed an average of 10% of grape stocks, although in some areas of the region up to 40% of crops were killed.

In the Cotê des Bar area, a destructive hailstorm in early June wiped out nearly 2,500 acres of vineyard.

Benoit Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, said: “Everything has been thrown at us this year. Poor weather during flowering when it was cold and wet meant that growth took place over four weeks instead of just a few days.”

Because of this, blossomed bunches contained berries of many varied sizes, a condition called millerandage.

“Then the rainiest June since the 1950s helped the spread of downy and powdery mildew,” Benoit added, which are two kinds of fungus that leave a dusty or cottony coating on grapes. Although mildew is normally restricted to chardonnay grapes, “this year it also hit the black grapes of pinot noir and meunier.”

This year, the French Agriculture Ministry forecasts that the yield will be just 2.1 hectolitres, which is a quarter down on the five-yearly average; despite this, Champagne insiders are insisting that the region is well enough equipped to cope with smaller volumes, as it has stocks from previous years to sufficiently supply the demanding worldwide market.

With regards to the quality of this year’s vintage, the French Champagne Board insists that it is “not yet compromised” and could still make much positive progress as long as the current dry, warm climate continues until harvest at the end of September.