31 August, 2000

Vendange around the corner

Chardonnay at Villers-Marmery in Montagne de Reims.

The sun shines, the grapes mature, and the vendange in Vertus is about to start around September the 15th. The preliminary exercizes have begun in August:

  • Technicians check the sugarcontent of the grapes with an interval of few days.

  • The compulsory story about the condition of the grapes in the departments Marne, Aube and Aisne has been published in the local paper, l'Union.

  • And Gerard, who organizes the vendange in our family, regularly contacts Normandy, which apart from viking heritage and camembert also houses a group of people, who year after year travel to Soulières to pick grapes with us.

    Now, let's have a more detailed view into the current condition of things, while these last parameters slip into place.

    Fine grapes
    The grapes augur well. The berries are big and pretty and in our parcels without disease as well. Which is identical with the overall situation in the major part of Champagne. Mainly in the departements Aube and Aisne the grapes some places have the disease mildew, caused by a lot of rain this summer.

    The amount of grapes is ample even it is not extraordinary like last year. With estimated 14.000 kilo of grapes per hectare there is enough for everybody to deliver their quota of 12.00 kilos per hectare.

    Since July the wine has used the power on maturation, Loisy-en-Brie July.

    Currently we wait to get the "go" from the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne). An army of techniciens from this common association of the champagne industry is currently working all over the area.

    Each three-four days since August 22nd they have measured the balance of sugar and acidity of the grapes in all villages in the area (around 3-400). When the balance between sugar and acidity is satisfactory, the vendange may begin.

    On the professionnal part of the homepage of the CIVC we can check the current state of the grapes in each deparment, and it most certainly begins to look good in Marne.

    DatoChardonnayPinot MeunierPinot Noir
    22/85,85 (5,9%)6,03 (5,9%)6,40 (6,1%)
    25/87,22 (6,4%)7,16 (6,2%)7,36 (6,4%)
    29/89,20 (7,3%)8,71 (6,9%)9,17 (7,1%)
    The grapes are ready, when the CIVC-measurement of acidity/sugar passes 10, and the alcohol potebtial (in %) passes 9.

    Even the numbers cover big differences between villages, even between parcels, the numbers still show, that the grapes at the moment mature very fast. The significance of the last week with the most pretty indian summer sunshine imaginable, can probably not be exaggerated.

    Furthermore the occurence rate of botrytis is followed carefully. If the frequency of this disease exceeds a certain limit, the vendange will start without considering any other parameters.

    Measurements of sugar
    A grape - in fact any fruit - is mature, when the sun has transformed all the acidity to sugar. The amount of sugar determines the final amount of alcohol, if you consider to let the must ferment to wine. Which is most certainly our plan.

    Since we neither want too much alcohol - sorry dear, it is not all a matter of the more the better - nor too little - all right, there is a minimum as well - you have to harvest the grapes in order to obtain the optimum balance. And when it comes to champagne, that moment is a bit before the grapes are fully mature. This is due to the fact, that the wine ferments twice, and the second fermentation contributes a bit to the final percentage of alcohol as well.

    The measuring is rather detailed. To help the do-it-yourself-measurers the CIVC proposes, how you may select your fields in order to get a representative result. You need grapes from both the parcels that mature early and late, from the old plants and the young and from your different types of soil. From each parcel you pick at least 1,2 kg - between 15 and 20 grapes twice per week in the period and in a way, so you take only one grape per plant and grapes from all levels in the rows.

    Preparations, the boxes for the grapes are ready.

    We leave this very accurate measuring to the CIVC, and the decision of when to start to the cooperative, since we cannot start anyway, until the coop is manned to press the grapes. And with around 230 owners with wine all over Côte de Blancs they have to stick pretty much to the average to find a period, where as many grapes as possible peak.

    The pickers
    The same considerations do not include the pickers. They arrive, when the vendange begins, and since the date is not fixed until a couple of weeks in advance, they have to be rather flexible.

    Through the years it has become increasingly common to hire a team for the job. Gipsies and more and more people from Eastern Europe arrive with their mobile homes to do the job, and they double the amount of inhabitants in the little villages in the week of the vendange. In France every city is obliged to have a space where the "travelling people" - as the gipsies are commonly designated - can stay.

    Sun on the last day of the vendange in 2004.

    We still harvest the oldfasioned way. This means, that a group of pickers get food and lodging at the farm as a part of their wages. They come from Normandy and iether have holiday or are unemployed. Here in Verzy, in the heart of the wine of Champagne, the locals that do not own the wine themselves, very often work with it. Coming up is picking and dealing with the grapes.

    One of the older ones must be our neighbour. She just told me, that she will have her 50 years jubilee this year, picking grapes. Think about that. This is my second vendange, and I am looking very much forward to do it.

    På dansk

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