UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Exceptional vintages

1990 Harvest Overview - doubts and expectations

For the fourth time in the past five years, the Champagne region brought in an abundant harvest of quite extraordinary quality. With average yields of 11,944 kg/ha, this vintage ranks as the third largest on record, beating its predecessor despite catastrophic spring frosts for the second year running. Never in living memory had the Champagne vineyards been hit so hard by frost in two consecutive years. But like the preceding vintage, the vines demonstrated their extraordinary ability to recover by sprouting afresh from highly fruitful secondary buds.

Following one of the mildest winters in 30 years, the vines began to ooze sap in mid February and were showing signs of bud break by late March — ten days earlier than in 1989. The springtime conditions accelerated growth, leaving the plantings particularly exposed to the icy blast that swept across Champagne in April. Four nights of severe frosts hit the newly emerged buds at their most vulnerable. At least 12,000 hectares of plantings (nearly 45% of the area under vine) were affected — twice as many as in 1989. Temperatures then suddenly soared, as in 1989, stimulating the bursting of secondary buds on the frost-damaged vines. But the respite ended abruptly with the arrival of cool, wet weather that resulted in a protracted bloom (late May to late June), with the inevitable losses due to coulure and millerandage. The vintage was only saved by the large number of unusually heavy bunches, thanks to timely rains that swelled the berries in the immediate run-up to the harvest.

Ultimately, despite the devastating spring frosts, this was a very good year for Champagne. The vineyards enjoyed their sunniest year since 1950 but did not suffer drought — unlike in 1976 and 1959. The result was a crop in peak condition that was harvested across a period of seven weeks, the start dates spread from 11 September to 24 September. Many of the vineyards were harvested again in the second half of October, with all picking and pressing banned in the intervening period to allow the second-generation fruit (some 100,000 pièces) to achieve phenolic ripeness.

All the indicators pointed to an outstanding vintage that would rank alongside some of Champagne’s most memorable years. Sugar content was even higher than in 1989, recalling the excellent 1945, 1966 and 1976 vintages. Acidity levels, also higher than the previous year, were as good as in 1946, 1975 and 1982. Furthermore, the grape musts were broadly similar across all varieties and vineyard sites, with none of the variations generally seen in Champagne — a particular feature of this vintage that was attributed to the warm summer.

CIVC Bulletin Number 175, Fourth Quarter 1990
Analysis conducted by the AVC-CIVC technical and oenological services