14 September, 2002
From all of us to all of you: Team of the year, 12 pickers, three carriers, one driver and the rest. From August 29th until September 5th we picked, carried and delivered around 43 tons of grapes of the varieties Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir.
All in all the team harvested three hectares of vines, one third belongs to Alain and myself. We have two plots, both with Meunier-grapes. As expected the plants on the upper plot gave very few grapes. The plants have been badly taken care of for years, and we are now in the process of re-establishing it. This year part of the price to pay is the amount of grapes.
The other plot has almost enough grapes to reach the amount, we are entitled to sell (the quota). This year, this is very good for a plot with red grapes, says a friend, whose job is to buy grapes for one of the big champagnehouses.
12-16 pickers - more during the weekend - picks the grapes, three-four empties baskets in boxes of 50 kilos and finally lift the boxes into the car. It contains two pallets, and is preferably off to the cooperative three-four times each day.
We have plots in three different places, and pick them according to the maturity of the grapes and a minimum of movement between plots. Since a lot of time is wasted each time you move 15 persons from one place to another. Preferably we change only after lunch. Alain regularly takes samples of grapes and get their amount of sugar and acidity measued in the lab of the coop.
The weather is on our side. Few days before we begin the harvest, the endless grey and the rain is replaced by fine and regular sunshine. Only one day is spent in the heavy rain gear. The mornings are warmer than usual. After all, we are three weeks ahead of the normal schedule, around September 20th. Still, the weather looks the same as any other vendange three weeks later. Morningfog. Changing of the colours of the leaves. Cool evenings. Thus it seems, that 2007 continues its anomalies. The year began with unusually warmth, spring came extremely early, and now autumn seems to be here several weeks before expected. Even the migrating birds have been around for at least a couple of weeks.
To pick grapes is hard. You work in a very low heigth since the plants are grown only one meter and twenty tall. On top of that you're expected to pick rather fast. Therefor only few breaks during the year can beat the ones during the grapeharvest. In the middle of the morning, again in the middle of the afternoon (we go back for lunch): Coffee tastes so good here, accompagnied by baguette with sausage and cheese and industrial cakes like madeleines and quatre quarts.
Each year has it's specialities: This year Claude decided to bring a few baskets of escargots, all the way back to Normandy. This year the call escargot ecchoed cheerfully through the lines whenever somebody found one. He had any chance to gather enough for a meal for all of the family.
Each member delivers his or her grapes at the cooperative, where they are weighted and afterwards collected for a marc, the equivalent of the 8.000 kilos of each press. Some of the boxes are still emptied manually.
Ecah pressing takes four hours. The result is must of different qualities. Only the best - la cuvée - is used for champagne. The must flows into a big vat below the presses. From here it is transferred to a special vat, where it is filtered to clean it, and afterwards transferred to big temperature-controlled steel vats, where the first fermentation of the must into wine takes place. This wine will later be used to create the final product, the champagne.
CIVC - the organisation, that amongst others controls the course of the grapeharvest in Champagne - has published its general evaluation of the vendange of this year.
The grapes are healthy and with a mostly suitable balance between sugar (alcohol) and acidity, some places even good enough for vintage champagnes, they say. The organisation expects most growers to reach the 12.400 kilo of grapes per hectare, that is the base quota of 2007 (rendement de base).
CIVC adds that they are rather happy after a 2007, "far from normal" with early development of the plants, bad weather during the flowering and rain and cold weather in August, which made it rather complicated to name the good starting date. Some growers postponed their start a few days to let the grapes benefit from the sunshine, that after August 24th burned its way through the grey skies. Et voilà, as we say in France.
The last deliveries of grapes at our cooperative - "La Vigneronne" in Vertus, Côte des Blancs - were brought in during September 11th.
No grapeharvest without its parties. This year we did a barbeque in the garden and celebrated Apollines, granddaughter of Alains cousin, four years birthday. After sunset, we moved back in, the evenings are really cool at this time.
So the cycle of the vines are through once again, and autumn seems to have settled with us in Champagne.