Smallest Harvest in 20 Years for Champagne Makers

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This year’s drought has done more than elevate corn and soybean prices, which has led to a feed shortage and sharply declining global cattle herds.

As The New York Daily News reports, this is one of the worst spring growing seasons on record for champagne makers who anticipate the smallest harvest in the last 20 years.

Champagne wine board spokesman Thibault Le Mailloux says the vines suffered every possible disaster up to the middle of the summer, including heavy rain, hail storms and late frosts.

A cold and wet spring reduced the number of grapes in each bunch and unevenly sized grapes which ripen at different rates.

“We feared the worst but August turned things around and all the signs are that the harvest will be of exceptional quality,” Mailloux said.

That’s because the hot and sunny August this year will enhance the flavor of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes used in champagne.

The Daily News notes frosts in April and May destroyed the equivalent of 7,165 acres and hail storms in June and July which accounted for a further 2,470 acres in an area where vines had already been traumatized by attacks of two types of mildew.

“It is going to be an atypical harvest to say the least,” added Le Mailloux. “It will certainly be one of the smallest of the last 20 years and it could be as much as 30 percent down on last year.”

The irregular ripening of grapes will force this year’s harvest to begin in the middle of September and could run a week longer than is usual.

“That will allow some winemakers to harvest in two stages, ensuring the grapes are all of optimum quality.”

In the first half of 2012, champagne sales in Europe were down 6.6 percent compared to 2011, but sales outside the European Union only contracted less than one percent.

“The sales figures have not been great but 50 percent of our sales are made in the last four months of the year,” Le Mailloux added.

Moreover, Italy’s wine production may slide 8 percent this year from drought and heat damaged grapes. And French production may slump 16 percent this year after frost, hail and an August heat wave harmed vines and grapes.

Production in Veneto, Italy’s biggest wine-growing region, may slide 12 percent to 7.67 million hectoliters, while output in Emilia Romagna is forecast to drop 9.8 percent to 5.82 million hectoliters.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
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