2020 - as seen through the eyes of Les Mains du Terroir
With the 2021 version of Champagne Week falling foul of the global pandemic as in 2020, there was a little ray of sunshine courtesy of the association Les Mains du Terroir. The fifteen producers each provided a sample of a vin clair and the collection was dispatched to all corners of the globe ahead of a Webinar meeting to discuss the characteristics, nuances and difficulties of the 2020 vintage.
It was an extremely warm year and a number of weather records were set. Firstly the wettest February before warming up through March and a hot April. It was the driest recorded July and earliest ever harvest beginning well into August. The culmination of the hot and dry weather was hydration stress in the vines. This caused the grapes to go into survival mode and stop ripening. This gave the vignerons a problem when assessing the optimum time to harvest. In many cases, they could no longer rely upon sugar and alcohol tests, reverting to tasting the berries and using their experience to ascertain when best to pick.
The hot temperatures during harvest meant it was imperative to get the grapes pressed immediately. Even sitting in crates, temperatures would build that could potentially begin the fermentation process and at the very least adversely affect the freshness of the resulting wines. White crates can remain up to 1.5˚ cooler than dark coloured crates which may be a small help in the future as climate change continues to ensure warmer seasons.
Another consideration for champagne producers is whether to block malolactic fermentation in order to produce fresher wines. The flip-side to this is the need to use sulphites or fining which is not always a popular choice. The long dry summer was advantageous in one aspect, particularly those farming organically or biodynamically as diseases were virtually eradicated meaning there was not the need to use fungicides. Limiting the use of toxins on plants and the soil of Champagne can only ever be a good thing.
From tasting the fifteen vins clairs, it would certainly look as if 2020 has the potential to produce some excellent wines, perhaps slightly less freshness than 2018 but we will see what the second fermentation brings and only time will tell. According to Eric and Mikael Rodez, there Empreinte Noire will not be released until 2032-4.
Whilst talking about the hot weather, 2021 has begun in much the same vein as 2016 with late, heavy frost threatening much of the vine crop across France. We will be keeping our fingers crossed for the vignerons.