Veuve Clicquot Harvest 2012
I was invited by Veuve Clicquot to be a part of their harvest this year and I of course, jumped at the chance. For the past few years, the House has opened it’s doors to select journalists and friends of the house to participate in the joys (and backaches) of a traditional grape harvest.
This being Veuve Clicquot however, we were eased into the strains of doing a harvest by being hosted at the Hotel Marc the evening before we hit the vines. The Hotel is the original home of Veuve Clicquot and had recently been renovated. A cool and stylish mix of classic interiors and modern design, I especially liked the little touches of whimsy, such as the life sized stuffed Ostrich wearing Veuve Clicquot orange sunglasses or the hallway lined with larger then life portraits.
After the aperitif of 2004 La Grande Dame in the cellars, we sat down to eat in the main dining room. During dinner, we were served a very red wine, the only one that comes from Champagne, a Bouzy red made from pinot noir, I believe it was the 1983, a great wine and still very drinkable. It’s a shame in one way that they don’t produce more Bouzy red but then again if they did, we’d have less champagne.
The next morning started with a brief demonstration of how to cut the grapes and also examples of what types of grapes we should and shouldn’t throw into the pannier (basket). It was fascinating, especially since it was all in French (which I don’t speak- yet) but I’ve been around enough vineyards to get the gist of it: dirt and leaves – bad, moldy grapes – bad, no moldy grapes – good, got it!
We were giving nice clean white (!) gloves, a pair or secateurs and shown our vine. We each had our own row to pick and me and my harvest partner, Christina, got to work. There is a rhythm and system to it. For example, you stand opposite each other on either side of the vine and one person is always cutting slightly behind the other person,so you don’t accidentally cut off your workmate’s fingers. And believe me, those secateurs are sharp! If we had any doubts about whether to reject or accept the bunches we were cutting there were vineyard hands about to answer any of our questions.
It really is hard work bending over the vines and snipping away. We were in the La Grand Dame vineyard, cutting chardonnay. I’ve seen wine grapes on the vine before but I was surprised at how firm and compact the bunches are, and how the berries don’t fall off even after being tossed about, not that we were playing tennis or anything like that with the bunches.
At about mid morning it was time for our snack. And what a snack! Out came bottles of Veuve’s own Bouzy Rouge 2003. I don’t know if it was because it was 11 in the morning and we’d been snipping away for a few hours in the nippy morning air or if it was just because we got a break but that Bouzy was delicious, refreshing but not thin, nice fruity notes and excellent with the cheeses, charcuterie and pate en croute we were served.
After that we went back to finish off our vine row before finishing up at lunchtime. It was a great experience but after one morning, I was happy to be leaving the fields and heading back into town.
I know it has been a difficult year to predict but afterwards, I asked Veuve what they thought about the 2012 harvest. Here are their comments:
“After waiting patiently until 17 September, our harvesters began collecting the doubly-precious grapes at Veuve Clicquot. Precious in their scarcity, because it was the whim of nature to significantly reduce the yields from Champagne vines in comparison to previous years. Also precious for their extreme quality, because these grapes, in excellent health, have a perfect balance between acidity and sugar content.
The House wanted to let the bunches ripen for as long as possible, particularly the Pinot Noir vines, in order to reach full aromatic ripeness which, this year, went hand in hand with high levels of sugar. The good health of the vines and their excellent levels of acidity made this choice possible.
After the first rainy half of the year and a disastrous spring, growers feared the worst right up to July, then, miraculously, warm weather arrived and the August sun helped the fruit reach its optimum ripeness.
The harvest began in summer sunshine, and continued generally in good, dry and cool conditions. Only three days of scattered showers disturbed this exceptional yield. The harvest was finished on 2 October in the villages of Verzy and Verzenay, and the House was one of the last to bring in all of its grapes.
The quality of this crop is magnificent: sugar levels over 10.5° with an average of 10.6° are comparable to those of 1989 and 1990. Average acidity of 7.8g/l and a pH of 3 indicate that the wines will offer very good freshness. Finally, the excellent health of the berries will lead to a rarely achieved aromatic quality.”
So there you have it. Based on other comments that I’ve heard from other champagne producers, 2012 vintage will be small but should produce some excellent wines. Will it be a vintage year? Well, only time will tell…
A big thank you to Veuve Clicquot for inviting me to participate in the harvest. I’d also like to note that all of our wages for the day were donated to the Elton John Foundation.