The Feast of St Vincent, patron saint of Winegrowers, marks the end of winter dormancy. Local brotherhoods across all of the villages in Champagne come together for the great meeting of the Archiconfrerie, which is also the moment to announce the export figures for the previous year.
Tasting of the vins clairs (still wines) is in full swing
The cellar masters and their teams taste the vins clairs from the previous harvest, tank by tank and barrel by barrel. This is skilled work that requires a memory of every wine with an eye to the eventual blend.
The Houses perfect their blends by combining wines from different years, different grapes and different vintages. The skill here is to create a whole that is greater the sum of its individual parts. 1 + 1 = 3, in a manner of speaking.
The sap oozing or “bleeding” from the vines is a sign of winter’s end.
Higher temperatures and light intensity trigger the sap to flow anew in the vine. The first buds emerge, covered with a downy coating called bourre, then swell and eventually flower. Bud-burst has arrived!
The year’s fruit-bearing canes are tied up by hand to regulate the growth of the vine.
Champagne holds its breath until the Saints de Glace (Ice Saints) are safely past (11, 12, 13 May), dreading a spring freeze that might destroy the future harvest’s fruitful buds.
Desuckering removes the non-fruitful buds (suckers or gourmands). Any unwanted growth is removed to optimise sugar concentration and encourage good sap flow.
The vine is in flower, and requires good weather to promote development of the inflorescences.
Lifting entails raising the shoots from the ground to give the vine its architecture and make the winegrower’s job easier. Next comes trellising, separating the shoots to allow maximum light penetration and increase airflow.
Representatives of the Champagne Growers union (SGV) and Champagne Houses come together within the framework of the CIVC (interprofessional Champagne wines committee) to set the marketable yield for the year.
The tips of the shoots are pinched back to direct the flow of sap – essential to nourish the clusters.
Véraison is the onset of ripening: the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier turn red and the Chardonnay turns golden.
Hardening off is the stage when the shoots become brown and woody.
Under the aegis of the AVC (Association Viticole Champenoise), volunteer professionals monitor ripening to determine the optimal harvest date for each cru.
The beginning and end of harvest varies from year to year. It’s action stations on all fronts. Wine growers and Champagne Houses enlist the help of some 120,000 seasonal workers to help them bring in the vintage – a year-long effort to produce the most precious grapes in the world.
The vineyard puts on its autumn colours in a final flourish before it enters dormancy.
The final days of October are the time when enthusiasts around the world celebrate #ChampagneDay, in whatever manner they choose.
The Champagne cellars release their first aromas amid the snap, crackle and pop of fermenting grape musts. This is the first stage in a long process that will culminate many years later in the discreet sound of a popping cork.
Dormancy in the vineyard sees winegrowers back at work pruning the vines – a job that will keep them busy until the following spring. Meanwhile, Champagne consumption takes off as consumers all over the world ring in the New Year just as they rang out the Old … around a glass of Champagne.