Clip, clip... a harvest with a maximum quota of grapes has just begun.
Clip, clip, clip... the first communes in Champagne have begun to harvest their grapes, the rest prepare a harvest, that has come a few days before expected. Just like last year. We will start in one week, and as everybody else we prepare a grapeharvest of maximum size.
The quota this year is 13.000 kilo of grapes per hectare, which is the so far biggest I have experienced during the four years I have followed the grapeharvest in Champagne.
Last year - 2005 - the quota of grapes - as far as I remember - was 11.500 kilos plus 1.500 for reserves. This means that we picked the same amount as we will this year, but were only payed for the 11.500 kilos from the start. The rest have been and will be payed as the blocked kilos are put into production. A decision made in the INAO, which is an organisation that is under the competence of the French ministry of agriculture.
Unlike the rest of France and other wine areas in the world as well, the market for champagne is just going up, up and further up. The sales makes the head spin around (... "font tourner la tête") as regional newspaper l'Union put it the other day.
Champagne sales up again
The sales have grown no less than 8,8 percent in the first six months of 2006. A rather big growth and completely different from the market of still wines. This is why the officials have chosen to put a maximum of grapes straight into the production of champagne.
The main part of this years yield will be turned into champagne straight away. Here vines at Villers-Marmery in the Montagne de Reims.
This means that we this year will not pick any grapes for reserves. Everything will be turned into wine and then champagne straight away.
On top of that the INAO plans to ask the EU for permission to have a bigger quota. It is not the region Champagne itself or even the French authoritoes that decide this. It shall be interesting to see, if the EU-officials will be able to seperate a market of still wines in deep crises from a market of champagne and sparkling wines doing just great with ever increasing sales.
So far the 13.000 authorized kilos per hectare are enough to fill 360 million bottles of champagne. Two fermentations and a maturing period of at least 15 months - several years that is - seperate the consumer from vintages and non-vintage champagnes of 2006.
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