A crucial stage awaits at the end of summer: harvesting This is a key time of year in the vineyard and for the Champagne region at large where, for two to three weeks, life revolves around the harvests. This is an exciting time for the whole community, who rally together in celebration. But it is above all a time for diligence – it must be done attentively and with precision, for a whole year’s work is at stake. Thousands of people set to work in the vines to pick the ripe grape clusters with the utmost care. Around 120,000 seasonal workers, in teams of 4 per hectare, are brought in. They each have a very specific role to play, whether as a picker, porter, loader or forklift truck operator for example. A successful harvest depends on all of them working harmoniously together.
Harvest time is also a key stage in the Champagne production process, a watershed moment, since this is when the grapes will begin their long journey to become Champagne. So nothing must be left to chance. Including the date on which the harvests may begin. This is never the same from one year to the next. It is set when the balance between acidity and maturity is predicted to be just right. The Champagne region has clubbed together to ensure the accurate timing of harvests, thanks to the MATU network, a group of voluntary growers who keep a close eye on the development of the vine over 600 control plots.
Harvests in Champagne are carried out entirely by hand. There is a very significant reason for this: to be able to make white wines from at least a percentage of black grapes, the clusters must be picked with the utmost care and taken to the pressing centres as quickly as possible. This is to avoid prolonged contact between the juice and the skins, which would colour the former.
The quantities picked are also strictly regulated: the Comité Champagne and the INAO determine the annual authorised harvest yield, within the limit of the maximum yield determined by the European Union. The aim: to favour quality over quantity.
As such, the harvests represent a truly important time of year for Champagne, on which everything hinges and when everything must be choreographed to deliver yields that promise exquisite cuvées in the future.
Picking with care and caution Picking with care and caution