A Complicated Year for Champagne

21st June 2016

A Complicated Year for Champagne

The last three months have been disastrous for the Champagne vineyards because of the awful weather. This will be a make or break week in the grape growers fight against mildew.

Between mid-April and early May there were a succession of heavy frosts. The growers in the Côte des Bar were the most severely affected. In Les Riceys 200 grape growers had 75% of their vines destroyed. The buds were burnt by a surprise winter frost. They are going to have to use their reserve wines and grapes from undamaged vines to make this year’s Champagne if they want to compensate their losses.

At the beginning of June hailstones the size of chickpeas fell on the vineyards around Mutigny in the Marne. One grape grower had the wood of his vines scared by their impact and the leaves were full of holes. He reckoned that he’d lost about half of his production and would only get 6,000 kg of grapes during the harvest.

Taking care of the injured vines has been made more difficult by the waterlogged condition of the vineyards. He has to do this as well as try to treat the mildew that has been caused by the heavy rain. It’s estimated that the equivalent of two or three months of rain fell in May alone.

Treatments for mildew aren’t 100% effective so it’s better to use a preventative treatment. This is difficult to start because of the continual rain storms. Now mildew is found throughout the vineyards.

Vines flower around the summer solstice, June 21st and it’s a period when they are sensitive to mildew. The leaves have already been touched and if the bad weather continues the grapes could also be affected.The growers need the weather to improve this week and for it to continue. As one grower noted sunshine is the best fungicide. If it doesn’t improve though 2016 could be like 1997 when growers lost 40% of their harvests.

Alerts have already been issued for potential epidemics of mildew and odium in certain areas . The Comité Champagne are monitoring the situation. They say that it’s too early to evaluate the damage but 2016 could be a complicated year for grape growers.


Jon Catt

Tour guide for the Champagne region who lives in Troyes. Specialising in family run Champagne house visits in the Aube and the Marne plus wine tours in the Yonne and Côte d'Or.