Champagne Harvest 2018 Report: the Vintage of the Century?

The 2018 harvest has recently ended in Champagne. We have asked some of the top champagne makers for their preliminary feedback (see below), and it is clear that the quality and amount of grapes picked this year is absolutely exceptional.

To have a definitive feedback on the profile of the still wines of 2018 we have wait for the end of the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation (when applicable), but they already seem as promising as they grapes they originate from.

It is now up to the champagne makers to accompany these wines to develop their full potential and rightly use and combine them in their assemblages.

If there are no surprises and the cards are played right, this could possibly be the vintage of the century. Unfortunately (but fortunately) it will take a few years before we’ll be able to taste any vintage champagne of 2018.

 

Champagne 2018 Harvest

These were, once again, very precocious harvests, starting on the 20th of August, the 5th time in 15 years that they start so early.

The Comité Champagne (CIVC) establishes every year the harvesting dates for each of the 320 crus (actually a date for each of the 3 grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier) based on: potential alcohol (based on the amount of sugar / litre) of the grapes, total acidity (H2SO4 / litre), but mostly sugar / total acidity ratio.

In its first assessment dated 7th September 2018, CIVC explains that this harvest was definitely out of the norm, for precocity, quality, and quantity.

As a result, the maximum permitted yield for this year of 10 800 kg/ha has been reached through the whole Champagne region.

With 33,868 hectares of vineyard been harvested, this carries the potential to produce about 310m bottles of champagne (although not of all of the 2018 wines will be bottled in 2019).

In addition, champagne makers will be able to add further 4 700 kg/ha of grapes to fill up their reserve wines after the unexciting 2017 harvest when, due to challenging weather conditions, the same maximum permitted yield was not reached in all the sectors of Champagne.

 

Champagne 2018 Climate

A very rainy winter filled the subsoil allowing the chalk to fill up in water and release it back during the drier periods.

In fact, from April onwards the region enjoyed plenty of sunny days and temperatures above the norm.

Thanks to this exceptional climate, vines evolved quickly, with both blossoming and maturation enjoying optimum conditions.

At the harvest, bunches were numerous and of excellent quality, far more rich in sugar and aromas than the historical average.

 

What some of the best champagne makers have to say about 2018

Krug champagne logo

Eric Lebel, Chef de Caves of Krug

My general impression of the 2018 harvest is that of precocity, quantity, and quality. We have never seen such a beautiful year for as long as we can remember. The harvest started in August, quite early compared to the average in Champagne. The quantity of grapes was extraordinary and so was their quality.

The year started with rainy and cool winter that was followed by hot and dry spring and a summer, without putting the vine in significant water stress. The vineyard has always resisted and behaved well, and I think that the incredible quantity and quality of this memorable year is explained by this particular climatology.

Through our very precise and selective approach based on the individuality of each parcel used, we have very special relationships with our grape suppliers, binding me with the winemakers who work several plots specifically for Krug. Part of my job preceding the harvest is, among others, to visit these vinegrowers, walk with them in their plots, taste their grapes, listen to their viewpoints, exchange opinions, and guide them. This tour in the vineyards throughout almost all of Champagne, made me realize that this harvest was exceptional everywhere in the region. No one was disappointed or experienced climatic accidents, or if they had experienced a few storms in May it was just “an old memory”. Seeing the winemakers’ smile and serenity before the harvest was really exceptional. 

It is too early to comment on the wines of this year, but the quality of the grapes that we pressed was very high and we all hope that it will be reflected in the wines. I personally have very good hopes.

At Krug, all wines are fermented in small oak barrels and tasted individually during autumn and by December we will have finished the first tasting and profiling.

At the beginning of next year, we will taste again our reserve wines (from previous vintages): we have 150 wines over 13 different years, with the oldest from 2005.

We will also taste again the wines of 2018 that will have evolved in the small oak barrels. These wines are clarified naturally between September and December when all the sediments fall to the bottom of the barrel before we transfer them in small stainless steel vats, keeping their identity and origins.

This is where the expressions of these wine further develop and become more refined and this is when we have the first hints to decide whether to make our cuvée number 2, the name that our founder Joseph Krug gave in his life book to our vintage champagne. We do not necessarily produce it every year but only when the vintage has a beautiful story to express and that we will capture through the vinification and assemblage. So whether we will make Kurg 2018 is a decision I’m going to take toward the end of March 2019.

Every year is different and has its own particularities, but 2018 will be recorded in the annals of Champagne as exceptional. For the younger generations [of champagne makers] 2018 it’s a textbook case and I hope that in their career they will experience years like this more often because it’s really a pleasure to work with such beautiful raw material, surrounded by happy and smiling people and winemakers.

PIPER-HEIDSIECK logo

Régis Camus, Chef de Caves of Piper-Heidsieck

As far as we can remember, we haven’t seen anything like that in Champagne before.

The quality, quality, sugar/acidity ratio, and the sanitary conditions of the grapes were excellent.

All 3 grape varieties, throughout the whole region, resulted in musts of great quality as the abundance of the harvest allowed a stricter selection of the best bunches.

At this stage, the still wines are flawless and precise and let us hope for a great vintage. What a joy!

Drappier logo

Michel Drappier, President of Drappier

The grapes were superb, fully ripe but not over-ripe, and rich in tartaric acid, the best for freshness and longevity in our wines. Tasting the grapes was such a pleasure as the seeds didn’t have any astringency, a sign of great quality.

All the grapes varieties (we use all 7 permitted in Champagne) gave great results: that’s incredibly rare! Pinots, in particular, were excellent, but so were Arbanne and Petit Mesliers.

Chardonnays were lighter in taste given the high yields but only the tasting of the still wines will let us draw a precise judgment, although we are already convinced that our cuvée Quattuor (Blanc de Blancs with 25% Chardonnay, 25% Arbanne, 25% Petit Meslier, 25% Blanc Vrai) will be among the best we have ever made.

So far the wines of Pinots are very fruity, and our organic wines are particularly expressive and balanced.

BOLLINGER Champagne

Gilles Descôtes, Chef de Caves of Bollinger

I have never seen anything like that before! All the grapes varieties in all the sub-regions of Champagne were incredible in term of quantity, potential alcohol, and sanitary conditions.

The Pinots from the Montagne de Reims will be the stars of this vintage in my opinion as this sector received fewer rains without suffering droughts, thanks to its chalky soil. Here the yields were smaller and the grapes very ripe, with an alcohol potential of more than 11° in our vineyards.

We have yet to properly taste the still wines, but we can clearly tell that 2018 is a promising vintage of great quality.

Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin logo

Dominique Demarville, Chef de Caves of Veuve Clicquot

The 2018 harvest is truly exceptional for quality and quantity.

Spring wasn’t actually promising in the beginning, with cold and heavy rains and mildew affecting certain sectors. Hail came at the end of April/beginning of May destroying more than 500 ha of vines. But from that moment on, plenty of sunshine came and never left until the harvest.

Thanks to the water reserves accumulated [in the subsoil] between winter and spring, vines haven’t suffered that much the draught. The result has been superb grapes without any sign or botrytis whatsoever. The ratio between sugar and acidity was ideal and the juices were very fruity and precise, with a nice freshness.

This harvest was also unique for its homogeneity: the whole Champagne region and all grapes varieties did very well, something very rare; it’s fantastic!

This harvest proves the exceptionality of Champagne’s terroir, mostly thanks to its chalk [subsoil], a tremendous medium for a regular supply of water into the vines.

This combined with a dry year like 2018 will deliver great wines, although to draw a precise conclusion on the quality of the still vine of this vintage, we must wait to complete the malolactic fermentations that will take place between October and December.

Deutz champagne logo

Michel Davesne, Chef de Caves of Deutz

This year the grapes were in perfect sanitary conditions with exceptional ripeness and potential alcohol often around or even slightly above 11°.

All 3 grapes varieties through the region were of great quality, something definitely unusual.

It’s still early to draw a precise profile of the wines of this vintage, but we can already say that they are precise, rich, winy, and with a certain balance because the PHs remain absolutely adequate.

Even though some compare 2018 to 2002 or to 1959 for the level of maturity, I think 2018 isn’t comparable to any other vintage because we have never seen before such level of maturity combined with such abundance. We are bound to believe that 2018 will be a great vintage, probably an exceptional vintage.

Lanson logo

Hervé Dantan, Chef de Caves of Lanson

That was an exceptional harvest, something that we have never seen in Champagne as far as we can remember, with such quality combined with precocity and abundance.

All grape varieties, in all sub-regions, were perfectly ripe. This harvest will be included among the greatest in the history of Champagne.

2018 started under difficult conditions, with an incredibly rainy winter (the rainiest in over 50 years). The water reserves of the soils were then perfectly reconstituted, and as a result, the vine was perfectly prepared for the unexpected period [of drough] that followed.

The sunshine in spring and summer were exceptional, with low rainfall and high temperatures. Only 2003 was warmer and sunnier. Thanks to these beautiful conditions and the water reserves stored in our chalky soil, the ripening of the grapes took place in exceptional conditions.

The average potential alcohol of all grape varieties are high (more than 10°) and the acidities are preserved and in line with those of the great sunny vintages. It’s a perfect balance that we hope will result in a great vintage.

It’s is still early to assess the wines of this vintage as we will have to analyze their evolution in time, but the first still wines we tasted suggest a great potential, with very fine and precise fruity aromas, and a remarkable volume in the mouth associated with great finesse.

de Venoge champagne logo

Gilles de la Bassetiere, President of de Venoge

2018 was incredible, something never seen or heard of in Champagne’s history before: cold at the beginning of the year, then water, and finally sun. This is the “Grand Slam” where the three grape varieties are magnificent.

With the right acidity and good potential alcohol degree, the right choice of the picking dates will make the difference [on the wines]. The 2018 harvest was superb, it’s up to us to make it an exceptional vintage.

Moet & Chandon logo

Benoît Gouez, Chef de Caves of Moët & Chandon

The combination of a harvest so precocious, generous, ripe, and healthy is unprecedented in the history of Champagne!

In 2018 the vines had the ability to feed the grapes [thanks to the chalky subsoil full of water reserves] and offer us extraordinary yields despite the drought.

The sugar/acidity ratio and the grapes’ health remained very stable from the beginning to the end of the picking, which is the sign of a harvest started at the right time and led in the right order.

The balance between sugar and acidity could remember 2003 but the pH is much lower. The only small downside is that the available nitrogen is historically very low, which poses a risk for the smooth running of the fermentations, so we must remain attentive.

We can be satisfied with the results in the whole of Champagne but if we want to quibble a little we can say that the Chardonnays are a little behind their historical performance, because of an unusual sensitivity to oxidation during the settling (débourbage), and that the Pinot Noirs of the Côte des Bar are a little less mature than those of the Marne. The Meuniers are very promising!

The richness in anthocyanins in Pinot Noirs and Meuniers was very high thanks to good temperature changes between day and night during the maturation phase of the grapes. The red wines should be exceptional; however, we must wait until the end of the malolactic fermentation to taste the wine properly.

Cattier champagne new logo

Alexandre Cattier, President of Cattier

The 2018 harvest was excellent! The perfect health condition of the grapes reminds me of 2009. Moreover, this harvest is surprising for its abundance. Nobody had really anticipated it, but we had one of the best harvests of the last thirty years.

We had almost the perfect vintage: a wet winter and early spring, which allowed the chalky soil to load up on water. Mildew peeped out at spring but we were able to contain it, and the good weather of the summer let the vine to grow while the chalk unloaded its water. The warm temperatures in August, especially at night, melted some of the acidity but during tastings, we realized that it is not a big problem for this vintage. We are ready for a similar harvest at anytime!

The grapes were magnificent throughout the whole Champagne region. On the north-east of the Montagne de Reims (where our family business has its own vineyard) an area that I tested extensively, I particularly liked the Meuniers. Despite low acidity, the pH is good. The musts we tasted were fresh, definitely fruity, with a nice tension on the palate on the finish.

It’s early to have a clear opinion on the wines of this vintage but I think that Meuniers are going to be expressive and well balanced. Chardonnays can also be balanced, with aromas leaning towards exotic fruits this year, much like the latest sunny vintages in Champagne. And the Pinot Noirs seemed very tense and likely to keep this beautiful tension in still wine. But this is just a guess!

Gosset champagne

Odilon de Varine, Chef de Caves of Gosset

The grapes were beautiful! Many superlative adjectives have been used to describe this year, and rightly so. Our oldest supplier [of grapes], in its 71st vintage this year, has never seen anything like that before!

The particularity of this year is that everything was beautiful everywhere!

The analytical profiles or the musts are quite different from what we usually vinify: nice alcohol degree, rather low acidity, high pH … i.e. a beautiful physiological maturity.

But it’s still a bit early for me to assess the wines. The fermentations are still on the way, and we do not judge the future of a man when he is still in the belly of his mother! And our job is nevertheless based on what nature has to offer, we must never forget that, especially after the last two challenging vintages.

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Florent Nys, Chef de Caves of Billecart-Salmon

The 2018 harvest is remarkable as nature has been particularly generous with us. The ripeness of the grapes was exceptional with very little malic acids and perfect sanitary condition.

Cultural practices such as tillage have limited the yields, and when necessary we proceeded with green harvests in July to reduce the bunches.

The grapes were of exceptional quality with a natural sugar level close to 11° potential, an ideal acidity with very little malic acid, which will allow winemakers to choose if undergo malolactic fermentation or not according to their style, but without dramatically changing the wines’ balance.

Our cold fermentations [just under 13°] prolong their lengths and many of our wines are still fermenting. However, the earliest picking of 25th August reveals very fruity wines, plenty of freshness with citrus aromas, and nice lengths.

Chardonnays from the Côte des Blancs and Pinot Noir from Mareuil-sur-Ay (where Billecart-Salmon is based), from vineyards whose soil has been worked mechanically, have a very good structure and their balance is extremely promising.

In a few words, I would describe the first wines of 2018 as intensively fruity, fresh and citrusy, balanced and smooth.

BARONS DE ROTHSCHILD Champagne Logo

Guillaume Lete, Chef de Caves of Champagne Barons de Rothschild

The 2018 harvest was great!

The heavy rains during winter were accumulated [in the soil] as water reserves for the vine.

Then, the sunny weather from the beginning of the vegetative cycle produced beautiful maturations.

It is an exceptional year for both quantity and quantity. The grapes were perfectly healthy and all of our Grand Crus gave great results.

The balance in our Pinot Noirs is excellent, combining richness and complexity. Our Chardonnays are already marked by a certain fineness with a discrete freshness, a sign of good aging potential.

It is still early to comment on the wines of this harvest but the preliminary tastings are promising. We can’t wait to properly taste our wines in early 2019 …

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