The Champagne Boutique

A Rigorous Climate – Tutorial 2

In Events on June 9, 2010 at 12:30 pm

The Champagne vineyards are not the easiest to work on and there is a good reason grape varieties such as grenache or syrah don’t grow well in this region. However, tougher grapes like chardonnay and pinot noir found a great home to grow in.

Situated at the septentrional limit of grape growing in Europe (49˚5 north latitude in Reims and 48˚ in the Cote des Bar) the region benefits in fact of a double influence.

The continental climate that Champagne gets from the East brings very cold winters with, sometimes, destructive frosts for the vine. In contrast, summer time can be very sunny giving the vineyard a much welcome boost.

The oceanic influence bringing regular low temperatures without too much difference between seasons (11˚ annual average) guaranteeing regular rain, exactly what vines need.

This double influence is ideal and is essential to the quality of grapes. The average pluviometry is around 700mm of water annually.

Champagne benefits only of a few hours of sunshine a year (2100h/year) but some years have been sunnier like in 1976 or more recently 2003.

What makes things difficult is that this specific climate is not regular. I explain!

First are the winter frosts (from 1,1 day to 3 days a year at -10C), which can destroy the vine. These frosts are locally situated but can ruin a champagne house whose whole vineyard can be affected. In addition, frost can strike again in spring. The negative effect on the bloom can simply kill it like in 2003 when 50% of all blooms were destroyed by frosts.

Comes the beginning of summer and the classic torrential rain and cold snaps, which can disturb the floraison (Flower blossoming) and then the nouaison (Fruit setting) where flowers or young fruits can fall off the vine or don’t develop at all.

In full summer, regular thunderstorms wash away topsoil and slit storms can severely damage grapes or leaves like in the vintage 2000 when 31 storms during that summer totally destroyed the equivalent of 3000 hectares.

It takes a lot to the wine maker to make the most of this capricious climate in order to create the most refined of all wines. I just have the most respect for them all, chapeau!

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