Picking officially commenced in Champagne last Saturday with start dates spread between August 20 and September 6th, depending on the location of the vineyards in the 34,000-hectare region.
The timing of the harvesting is guided by the Réseau Matu, which is a network of hundreds of representative vineyard plots spread across the appellation.
The harvest has begun far earlier in the season than normal. This is a result of the extreme heat seen across Europe this summer. August harvests used to be extremely rare, they are now becoming common due to climate change. This warming weather may start forcing changes to how the famous sparkling wine is produced.
These high temperatures and the worst drought on record have also caused massive wildfires and led to restrictions on water usage across France, but they also boosted grape maturity.
The pickers are paid on what they pick and are rushing around in temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) as they have to pick the grapes before they become over-ripe and supercharged with sugar.
“I think we’re at the turning point,” said Charles Philipponnat, President of Philipponnat Champagne, “So far, global warming has helped: harvest in good weather conditions without rain, without too much cold, with ripeness and little rot.”
Producers across France are expecting this year’s harvest to yield a good quality vintage when it makes its way to market, a relief after frost and mildew fungus attacks in 2021, something dry and hot weather helped prevent this year.
“Following the remarkable rebound of Champagne shipments in 2021, including record shipments to the United States, Champagne is expecting an excellent yield in 2022,” said Jennifer Hall, director of the Champagne Bureau, USA.
Champagne shipments in the first half of 2022 were close to 130 million bottles globally, representing an increase of 13.8 percent compared to the same period in 2021.
The region’s harvest officially started September 6th this year. The Comité Champagne announced that as much as 60% of the yield was lost due to poor weather conditions where the grapes succumbed to botrytis and mildew.
The grapes are picked around 100 days after the vines have flowered and when they are the ripest. As required by The Comité Champagne, picking is exclusively by hand, vineyard parcel by vineyard parcel, bunch by bunch. Maison Mumm employs around 1,000 grape pickers for this three-week period.
Prior to picking, MaisonMumm sends a Collard machine down the rows. This will do some partial trimming to make it easier for the grape pickers. Once the grapes are picked, they are placed in yellow bins. Laurent Frenet [Chef de Cave of Maison Mumm] strategy is not to keep the grapes too long before pressing – once the bins are full, they are rushed off to the press houses. Mumm has seven traditional presses ‘Coquard presses’, near its vineyards.
The grapes are sorted at the vineyard level and as per Georges Hermann de Mumm’s maxim “Only the best” bunches are picked.
We joined Bernard Pineau (Sustainable Viticulture Manager at Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët) in the vineyards. Bernard took us to some of the north-facing slopes in Verzenay and Mailly.
Not only is it harvest time, but it’s also the end of a very difficult growing season. The Champagne region was hit with spring frosts, and heavy summer rains which has led to mildew fungus.
The Chef de Caves Laurent Frenet, who also joined us later, says ‘The best areas are the north and south of the Montagne de Reims, especially the black grapes.” and “…the best quality and quantity are coming from Verzenay, Verzy, Ambonnay and Bouzy this year..”
G.H Mumm currently owns 215 hectares of vineyards in some of the finest terroirs in Champagne which are rated 98% on the champagne quality scale. These micro-terroirs are located in Aÿ, Bouzy, Ambonnay, Verzy, Verzenay, Avize, Cramant and Mailly-Champagne. Mumm makes arrangements, each year, to purchase grapes from independent growers to meet their needs.
Bernard, who heads up the sustainable development objectives for 2030, explains that he has moved away from chemicals “weed control and systematic treatments are over…It’s now all about observation.” He has set up experimental programs in regenerative agriculture in some of their vineyards.
Bernard goes on to say, “we’re looking at the best that can be found among organic, biodynamic and agroforestry techniques.” He wants to reduce chemical inputs without “restricting to organic farming, which is too reliant on copper.”
Bernard goes on to explain that regenerative viticulture has shown to improve sub-surface microbial life, and root health and having a complex system of cover crops with grass and clover ensures that “weeds don’t get a foothold”. These plant covers are planted just after the harvest by direct drill. Bernard goes on to say “This reduces the carbon footprint and keeps carbon in the ground ..keeps the nutrients in the ground.”
“The ground is the motor, and you have to fuel it with (this) with energy”
Bernard and his team’s strategy:
Fertilizing the ground with natural oils and other natural processes – no herbicides have been used for the past three years;
Use AI [Bitobot – atomatic care of the grass]; and
Adapting the ground to global warming.
Bernard Pineau (Sustainable Viticulture Manager at Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët) clearly states: “Regenerative viticulture is the best model – we are convinced” “It is already working for potato and the cereal industry.”
I am thrilled to be a special guest this year to participate in the G.H. Mumm harvest along with British wine Journalists Jamie Goode and Giles Fallowfield. Our initial meeting was at Moulin de Verzenay and accompanying us was three of the Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouet Paris team.
Moulin de Verzenay is perched on a hill above the village of Verzenay. It’s classified as a historic monument and is the last surviving example of a 19th Century mill that once stood on the windswept Mont Rizan. G.H. Mumm took over its conservation in 1972.
We were lucky (September 17th) was a beautiful sunny day with some low-lying clouds. While we sipped our coffee, we could see the harvest in full swing from our vantage point.
There was such an impressive panorama of the grand cru vineyards and from a short distance, we can see one of Mumm’s first pressing houses.
The Sustainable Viticulture Manager of Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët, Bernard Pineau, also joined us and explained some of the experiments that he and his team are conducting with regenerative agriculture.
Bernard says: “Regenerative farming involves agroecology, agroforestry, permaculture…, and “we have moved away from chemicals. Weed control and systematic treatments are over. It’s now all about observation”
Continues …Part ll….Into the Vineyards with Bernard Pineau, the head of sustainable winegrowing at Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët