The 2022 harvests will translate into an exceptional year for champagne, both in terms of quality with optimally ripe fruit and in terms of quantity.
Taittinger Vineyard Director Christelle Rinville tells us a bit more about this year’s harvest and pressing activities.
What explains the exceptional quality of the grapes this year?
Their quality can be explained by the particular set of weather conditions this year: sunshine (regardless of the month of the year, the hours of daily sunshine were higher than the normal monthly values – particularly in July) and minimal rainfall. But also by the fact that the vines were in a perfect state of health, withstanding even the toughest weather conditions: the vines stood firm despite the spell of spring frost (an average 8% of losses across the Champagne vineyard versus 30% in 2021 and, more particularly for us, across our Essoyes and Sézanne vineyards). Most importantly, they coped with July and August’s high temperatures extremely well. Despite several days where the mercury climbed above 40°C, we saw limited damage from scorching (grapes burned by the sun). The leaves remained green for the whole campaign with relatively limited growth due to the heat.
The quality of the harvest was also a result of the work carried out throughout the year as well as the harvest preparations (maturation network) to determine the exact time to begin picking. We didn’t mind delaying the start of the picking process – even though the sugar levels were good, we wanted to wait until the berries produced a beautiful aromatic expression. We started picking the Meunier grapes on August 30th; for the Pinots and Chardonnays, picking kicked off on the first weekend of September.
Will it have a positive influence on the wine’s quality when the grapes display these characteristics?
As soon as we can see that it is a good year for winemaking and that the vines have coped well with the high temperatures and drought conditions, the picking dates enable us to harvest the healthiest possible grapes with beautiful aromatic expressions, so everything aligns. The grapes will fully express the terroirs because the vines have been well-balanced all year round, drawing all the mineral elements and amino acids from the soil thanks to their root system.
Each and every cru corresponds to a colour in a painter’s palette: it’s up to the cellar master to then select the blends, i.e., the optimum colours for producing his or her painting. When the colours are beautiful and the choices are varied in terms of quality, this indicates great potential for our cellar master Alexandre Ponnavoy.
Can we already tell that the grape will make a vintage at this early stage?
We declare a vintage when tasting the clear wines. From my career as an agronomist and to my knowledge, it is technically the best harvest. There are no areas of weakness: the quality of the harvests, the bunches of grapes and the berries are exceptional on every single level, be it the sugar/acidity, aromatic or visual characteristics.
How many staff work for Taittinger during the harvest?
There are 70 permanent full-time employees at the vineyard who work on the vines, bolstered with seasonal workers for pruning and tying the vines and for lifting the branches and ’topping’ the tips of the branches. At present we have 100-115 people. And during the harvest, we’re talking about much larger numbers: more than 800 people (mostly pickers, but also people who transport the grapes to the presses and people who work at the presses to monitor the weight, tip the crates, clean the crates, organise the marcs and carry out pressing and fermenting).
Once the grapes have been harvested, can you remind us of the broad transformation process that they then undergo?
There needs to be close coordination between the presses and the production site receiving the pressed musts: on the one hand, to organise the dispatch of the tankers that collect the musts from our tanks every day and then, on the other hand, to send them to the tanks that will receive the musts according to crus or grape varieties or to turn into wine.
Maison Taittinger has three different presses, to which areas do they correspond?
These three presses represent the three main areas we work in. In Pierry, at Château de la Marquetterie, we press the grapes from the Hautvillers to Sézanne regions via the Épernay region (Pierry, Moussy, Vinay, Chavot) and the Côte des Blancs. We press around 110 hectares of vines, we also receive grapes from our suppliers here.
At the Montagne de Reims we press grapes from Murigny, from the Rilly sector, as well as everything that falls under the Grands Crus category: Mailly, Verzenay and Ambonnay as well as Trépail. 100 hectares are pressed on the Rilly-la-Montagne press.
Our third press is located at Loches-sur-Ources where we press grapes from the Côte des Bars, mainly Loches and Essoyes, which represents almost 90 hectares in total.
We press all the grape varieties on our presses: Grands Crus, Premiers Crus and other crus.
How many marcs are pressed each day in these various presses?
In general, we’re talking between eight and 12 marcs per day during peak periods. And one marc corresponds to 8,000 kg.
Once the harvest is over, what’s next on your to-do list as the vineyard director?
When that’s done and dusted, I have lots of admin work to be getting on with.
During harvest, it’s all about observation, quality control, monitoring, anticipating needs, supporting the press managers, etc. The next stage involves sorting out regulations for picking and rentals made during harvest. That’s when the admin work starts: declaration of harvest with the Champagne Committee (CIVC) and an overall assessment of our harvests by cru and by grape variety. We must then take stock of the overall situation while everything is still fresh in our minds, looking at everything that could be improved in order to make progress across the board.