For Champagne drinkers around the globe, celebrating happy occasions just got a little more difficult with the distressing news about the 2021 grape harvest. As the weather around the globe continues to change, often in radical and unpredictable ways, it is wreaking havoc with the grape harvest. Because of this, the 2021 Champagne grape harvest has been hit especially hard, and many vineyards have lost an immense amount of grapes. Vineyards are bracing to see their smallest crop in 40 years, although the final numbers won’t be tallied until the end of September.
The Comité Champagne recently reported this dismal news to a world wanting its bubbly. With close to 30 percent of this year’s harvest lost to frost, and another 25-30 percent decimated by various types of mildew, everything that could have gone wrong with this year’s harvest has gone wrong! Some members of The Comité Champagne, the appellation’s official trade association, think the region has lost almost 60 percent of its grapes. The bad news started just after bud break, and the story continued to go downhill from there. In France, the buds break out in late March, but soon after the entire region was hit by 12 days of frost, with the most catastrophic days being April 6-7 and May 3. Because of this early deep freeze when the buds were just starting to pop out, many of the grapes did not recover.
In addition to the late frosts, the grapes suffered from severe storms that brought abundant rain and hail to the region, which pummeled the young grapes as they grew. May was especially dismal, as the vineyards were hit by rain and storms. When June ushered in warmer weather, many diseases took hold in the vineyards as well, with mildew, botrytis, and powdery mildew inflicting untold damage on the crop of grapes. And because there was such an abundance of rain, producers could not make it into the fields to eradicate the disease as the grapes grew. Grapes require so much hands-on attention but the weather was not conducive to that happening this year.
Although the news about Champagne grapes is bleak coming out of France, not all areas of the country have been affected in the same way. According to Decanter, “Worst affected were the southernmost Barséquanais and Bar-sur-Aubois areas and the Massif de Saint Thierry to the west of Reims, which were estimated to have lost 63%, 51%, and 45% respectively of the potential harvest.” This is absolute devastation for all of the vineyards in that area, and some producers will not even be picking grapes at all, because the crop yield is so greatly reduced.
Another area that was hit worse than others was the organic grape vineyards, whose producers have to take such great pains to treat their diseased vines. Hervé Dantan, Champagne Lanson’s winemaker, said, “You have to treat the vines again after every 20mm of rain and this year over the 14-16 July we had 115mm of rain in just three days in some places.” Because of the intense weather, it was so difficult to get out into the fields to remove any diseased vines, and the problem persisted.
The first half of 2020 had seen historic low Champagne sales as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold of the world. There wasn’t really anything to celebrate as the world dealt with the aftermath. But now that people have latched on to the new normal of living with the pandemic, Champagne sales are rising again. “Shipments were up by 50% in the first half of 2021 versus the same period of 2020, when demand sank to ‘historic lows’ following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.” Unfortunately, now that people are ready to drink Champagne again, much of the crop has not survived.
Although the quantity of grapes has been greatly reduced this year by the rage of Mother Nature, producers are optimistic that the quality is high. “The people of Champagne are accustomed to working in difficult conditions,” Jean-Marie Barillère, co-president of the Comité Champagne, stated. “They take pride in dealing with each year’s conditions to produce the great wine that is Champagne.”
For Champagne lovers who are worried about getting their hands on a bottle of bubbly, however, all is not lost. The Comité Champagne has a region-wide system that requires all Champagne producers to save some Champagne for a rainy day and set some bottles aside which are made in plentiful years. By planning ahead, the Comité Champagne can make up for a poor harvest like 2021.
So Champagne drinkers need not despair but can rejoice in the forward-thinking of the French grape growers who know how precious their commodity is and take great pride in making Champagne available throughout the world.