Those were the words used to describe the 1982 vintage. “Timely” because it marked a long-awaited departure from the poor vintages of the recent past. “Historic” because never in living memory had Champagne growers enjoyed such a huge harvest. Total yields exceeded 1.2 million 205-litre pièces and averaged 16,000 kg/ha — an increase of 50% and 20% respectively over the records set in 1979 for total yield (835,000 pièces), and in 1970 for yield per hectare. In anticipation of the bumper crop, the maximum permitted yield for AOC production was raised to 13,000 kg/ha, with a 10% PLC (Plafond Limite de Classement) or the amount by which growers are permitted to exceed the permitted yield in a given year).
This vintage deserved all the superlatives heaped upon it, not least because quality kept pace with quantity across the entire vineyard area. Rarely has a growing season enjoyed such ideal conditions: a very promising bud break in early spring; good weather during the all-important flowering phase; and a warm, dry summer with above-average sunshine for a straight two months that promoted ripeness despite the heavy crop load. Another plus were the rains in the late stages of ripening. The vines produced abundant clusters, some 15-20 per plant typically weighing from 120 to more than 140 grams. Furthermore, they continued to increase in weight as the grapes were being picked — a not-altogether welcome consequence of the rain that fell for the first three days of harvesting. Otherwise, the bumper crop came as no surprise, counting and weighing the clusters now being a key part of crop forecasting in Champagne. Indeed, this was a high-yielding year for AOC and non-AOC wine regions alike, with the Champagne AOC probably only bested by its Alsace counterpart.
For many Champagne producers this bumper performance was a taste of things to come. In just a few years, the vineyard would encompass an additional 5,000 hectares, making yields in excess of one million pièces nothing so unusual. Pressing and storage facilities had improved considerably over the past decade with this in mind, so dealing with this yield posed no problem.
The harvest commenced on Friday 17 September and continued for upwards of a fortnight (slightly longer than usual), picking in unstable weather conditions that deteriorated in the first days of October at the expense of the last remaining grapes. Otherwise this was a remarkably healthy crop. Botrytis blight in late July/early August was stopped in its tracks and the bright green foliage showed no signs of water stress despite the mid-season drought. Grape musts with 9% ABV and acidity of 8 g/l H2SO4promised elegant, delicate wines that would no doubt mature quite quickly — so suiting modern tastes.
CIVC Bulletin Number 143, Fourth Quarter 1982
Analysis conducted by the AVC-CIVC technical and oenological services.