The 1985 vintage came as a real relief to Champagne growers following a difficult growing season with some of the worst frosts in decades. Vineyards elsewhere in France fared little better but Champagne with its extreme northern location caught the worst of it. The vintage was only saved by exceptionally fine weather in September and October, with record levels of sunshine that promoted optimal ripening. The berries grew plumper, cluster weight increased, and the overall yield rose by almost 40% — from an estimated 400,000 pièces at the beginning of September to a yield beyond all expectations of 555,000 pièces at the end of the month. A small crop certainly, but larger than expected and of quite remarkable quality.
In January and February temperatures plummeted to minus 20 degrees Celsius, causing widespread and often irreversible damage to the vines. With spring nowhere in sight, frost then took its toll on the newly emerging buds. Early summer brought an improvement that helped to accelerate flowering — always a critical time in the vineyard — and promote the development of those clusters that survived the frost. By late July growers were predicting yields of 5,000 kg/ha (compared with the 15-year average of 9,500 kg/ha). The weather then deteriorated in August and though the crop was unaffected the outlook was dire: continuing bad weather would likely reduce yields to just 4,000 kg/ha. In the event the welcome arrival of an Indian summer saw average yields rise to 6,800 kg/ha, or two-thirds of normal levels, but with considerable variations from site to site depending on the severity of frost damage. Some vineyards produced just a few hundred kg/ha, others more than 10,000 kg/ha. The worst hit zones were the Aube region, the hillside vineyards west of Reims and the northern flank of the Montagne de Reims. In all, some 1,000 hectares of frost-bitten vines would have to be uprooted.
By harvest time on Monday 30 September the grapes had ripened to perfection, facilitating the work of the pickers who were largely finished by 11 October. Many of the vineyards were then harvested again 10 days later to pick any grapes missed first time around or fruit that had ripened in the interim (an unexpected bonus).
Alcohol by volume (ABV) reached 10.3% with acidity of 8.3 g/l H2S04 — more than satisfactory for a region like Champagne where the emphasis is on finesse and elegance not alcoholic strength. More would be known after the spring tastings but all the signs pointed to an excellent vintage, possibly resembling the 1975 edition.
CIVC Bulletin Number 155, Fourth Quarter 1985
Analysis conducted by the AVC-CIVC technical and oenological services