The 1989 harvest yielded an unexpected bumper crop of equally unexpected quality: 1,223,000 pièces, including around 100,000 pièces that were harvested two weeks later. The total yield was the third highest in the history of Champagne production, exceeded only by the 1983 and 1982 vintages. This, at a time when Champagne producers were braced for one of the worst harvests in 50 years following severe April frosts that devastated the forthcoming crop.
Unseasonably warm weather in late March triggered a growth spurt that left the vines particularly vulnerable to the cold wet weather that ensued. Temperatures dropped by more than 30 degrees, with lows of minus four to minus five Celsius recorded on 26-27 April. The worst-hit vineyards (in the Aisne, the Aube, the Marne Valley, Congy-Villevenard and the Montagne de Reims) sustained frost damage to nearly a quarter of the area under vine (6,000 hectares).
Fortunately, the return of fine weather then worked its magic, reviving the frostbitten vines that did eventually flower but not until July. The precocious ripeners, untouched by frost, meanwhile flowered in early June (particularly the Chardonnay), followed by the late-season ripeners in mid June. As a consequence, some varieties were ready to harvest by 4 September while others were not fully ripe until the beginning of November. The differences would be even more marked had it not been for the hot, dry weather in July and August (500 sunshine hours compared to the 10-year average of 400 hours) that persisted throughout September and October. All of the grapes reached perfect ripeness, early- and late-ripening varieties alike, and the number and weight of clusters was quite exceptional for Champagne. The average yield per hectare was 11,600 kilos, significantly higher than the 10-year average of 9,700 kg/ha, from a productive area of 27,107 hectares (an increase of around 900 hectares compared to 1988).
The harvest was one of the most protracted on record. There were 10 different start dates depending on grape variety and vineyard, spread from 4 to 18 September with grapes picked in batches according to ripeness. For the time first time this year, five departments banned all picking and pressing in the period 1-10 October to avoid any undue haste that might jeopardise the quality of the grapes. The weather remained hot and dry throughout the harvest, safeguarding a vintage that deserved all the superlatives heaped upon it: outstanding in quantity and quality, and rich in sugar (10.15% ABV) but with just enough acidity for good balance (7.30g/l H2S04). Low acidity certainly, but that came with a promise of round, supple Champagne wines that would drink well relatively early. Comparable though less abundant vintages would be the 1900 and the 1873. In terms of structure and aroma, this year’s wines were not unlike those of 1975, 1964 and 1952 — all of them remarkable wines from extraordinary vintages.
CIVC Bulletin Number 171, Fourth Quarter 1989
Analysis conducted by the AVC-CIVC technical and oenological services