UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Exceptional vintages

1995 Harvest Overview - looking to the future

This was another bumper harvest for Champagne, the seventh in a row despite the constraints of extreme weather conditions imposed by the northerly location. Never in the history of the appellation had the vineyards achieved such a consistently high performance. Average yields reached 10,979 kg/ha, with the harvest base yield set at 10,400 kg/ha but capped at 11,000 kg/ha to prevent over-supply. The percentage of grapes eligible for the AOC had meanwhile increased due to the expansion of the Champagne wine region: 1,046.528 pièces from a productive vineyard area of 30.659 hectares (up from around 28,000 hectares, yielding 1,051.010 pièces, in 1992).

A mild, wet winter was followed by a sunny spring but with a cold snap in March that caused localised damage in early-ripening sectors. Temperatures dipped again in April, after the buds had broken, and May saw two nights of severe frosts that caused varying degrees of damage to nearly 600 hectares of plantings in the Barséquanais. The summer was warm but wet, with the inevitable outbreaks of mildew, botrytis blight and other vine diseases. Bloom occurred in late June, in ideal conditions that promoted vigorous growth despite the incidence of coulure and millerandage. The vines were heavily laden with tightly packed clusters of fruit.

By late July, with temperatures hitting 37 degrees Celsius, growers expected an average yield of 13,100 kg/ha. The INAO accordingly raised the maximum permitted yield to 11,000 kg/ha (5.77% above the base yield). In the event, the average yield per hectare fell just short of that figure due to the poorer performance in some sectors, most notably those hit by frost. It was clear however that Champagne vines had become overly vigorous and the more cautious growers naturally took all necessary steps to restrict their yields, for example green manure seeding, selecting the right clones and planting at the appropriate density. Their efforts paid off handsomely, proving that the lighter the crop-load, the more concentrated the grapes, and vice-versa.

The harvest start dates were spread from 18 September to the beginning of October, working in sunny, relatively cool conditions that came as a welcome relief after the warm, wet weather immediately prior to picking. With production in excess of the maximum permitted yield, pickers and pressureurs (press workers) were given free rein to apply a draconian sorting process. Insufficiently ripe berries, botrytis-infected berries — in all nearly 2,000 kg/ha of grapes were discarded.

All the signs pointed to delicate, crisp wines with good structure, and a slightly lower sugar-acid ratio than in other exceptional years. Sugar content would certainly have been higher had it not been for rushed harvesting in some places and vines too laden with fruit, both much to be deplored. Average acidity was comparable to the 1985 vintage and indicated wines with good ageing potential. The general consensus was that 1995 would very likely be a vintage year, with the best cuvees bearing the vintage date.

This vintage also marked the enactment of new regulations aimed at reinforcing the quality of Champagne wines. Press yields were set at 102 litres per 160kg grapes (up from 150 kilos), with juice extraction limited to 25.50 hl per 4,000 kg marc (the standard unit measure for a press-load), split between the cuvee (the first 20.50 hl of juice) and the taille (the last 5 hl). Only the cuvee would be used to make AOP Champagne wines, the taille no longer being eligible for the appellation. This effectively reduced 1995 AOP production by 4.6% or 13 million bottles. Extraction of the vin de rebêche (juice of the third pressing sent directly to the distillery to make alcohol) also became mandatory and had to comprise 1-10% of the total.

CIVC Bulletin, Fourth Quarter 1995
Analysis conducted by the AVC-CIVC technical and oenological services