After a difficult year, Champagne winemakers reassure Champagne lovers: ‘There will be no compromise on quality’
This year has been a challenging one for grape growers and winemakers, not least because of the pandemic: the extreme weather in the Champagne region of France meant that the harvest yields were strongly recuded this year. “We do not remember such spring frosts, torrential rain, hail, not to mention the mildew pressure that hit the region’s vineyards. It is therefore difficult to compare this year’s harvest with previous ones”, says Thomas Jorez, Export Director of the Champagne house Philipponnat.
However, he stresses that champagne lovers in Lithuania and other countries around the world should not be disappointed. Winemakers have worked hard to ensure that this year’s harvest delights in both taste and quality. A representative of the Champagne House agreed to tell us about the spirit in which the growers and winemakers of Champagne are ending the last season.
Happy with the harvest
One of the oldest Champagne houses in the region, with almost five centuries of history, the Champagne House produces its drinks from its own vineyards. Philipponnat follows a tradition handed down from generation to generation of producing Champagne with the lightness, freshness and fruity aromas of Pinot Noir grapes. Philipponnat Champagne is recognised both worldwide and in Lithuania, where it is represented and distributed by MV GROUP Distribution.
However, this grape variety is renowned not only for the unique flavour of the beverages it produces, but also for its structure and ability to age. Jorez does not hide the fact that the mood of the region’s winemakers this year has been in keeping with the changeable weather.
“We reacted as we are used to: we monitored the situation closely and spent many hours working in the vineyards. When necessary, we simply worked more. Serving customers all over the world who expect an uninterrupted supply of the highest quality products, we cannot afford to fail,” says he.
According to him, this year’s harvest at Philipponnat is quite good, despite the challenges of the grape-growing season. Although the grapes are smaller than usual, unlike some other producers in the region, the Champagne house has not suffered major harvest losses and is satisfied with its grapes.
What this year’s harvest will produce is difficult to predict at this stage, says Jorez. Winemakers will assess the taste and maturity of the beverages in January-February, when the base wines are tasted. “These will probably be wines with higher acidity. The cool summer has not reduced the grapes’ inherent acidity,” says the representative of the Champagne house Philipponnat.
The most important rule is quality
So neither the quantity nor the quality of beverages produced will be affected by this year’s bad weather. Mr Jorez points out that the unique wine reserve system in Champagne helps to compensate for harvest losses. Around a third of the ingredients used in the production of their NV Champagne come from reserve wine stored in oak barrels. The permanent wine reserve is built up and renewed annually using the best quality part of that year’s harvest. The bottling should therefore be similar to that of the previous year.
“The Champagne produced by the Philipponnat house is characterised by its intense style, structure and fruitiness. It is a champagne for wine lovers and is world-renowned for its quality,“ says Mr Jorez. It is the focus of this year’s competition.
“The main rule we follow when creating our Champagne is ‘no compromise’. We have to be strict and sometimes, if something is not done well enough, it has to be abandoned. As far as style is concerned, as always, we remain faithful to our terroir principles. For example, the Blanc de Noirs ‘Extra-Brut’ produced by the Champagne house reflects the spirit of the region from which it originates, the southern sub-region of Montagne de Reims, which is reflected in the taste and aroma of the drink,” he says.
The best is still maturing in the cellar
While the ungrateful weather may not have scared the centuries-old Champagne houses, in recent years there have been challenges around the world for which no one was prepared. In fact, pandemics and quarantines have not had a major impact on vineyard operations, says Mr Jorez. Most of the activity takes place outdoors on the 17 hectares of vineyards owned by the Champagne house. Only the workers have started travelling to them separately, using their own transport.
However, the company’s export director admits that there was no lack of anxiety when trading stopped for a while. “People did not know what to expect. But we decided not to panic and to talk to our partners,” says Mr Jorez.
The company’s strategy was the first step in overcoming the uncertainty. “Philipponnat’s sales are made in many countries and through many channels, so its performance in some markets helped to compensate for fluctuations in others.
Equally important was the focus of the company’s team. “We are a family-run champagne house and this is reflected in Philipponnat’s operating philosophy and internal culture. The family spirit is evident in our daily activities: team members rely on each other, help each other and rush to the rescue in case of any difficulties. Champagne House staff and management agree on one more thing: no compromise when it comes to quality. Either we do things well or we don’t do them at all,” comments T. Jorez. So, the Champagne House Philipponnat is optimistic about the near future. The company intends to continue to strengthen its position on the international market and to gradually expand. The Champagne House already grows grapes sustainably, using herbicide-free vineyards and organic fertilisers, and is planning to move towards a fully organic operation in the near future. “It is likely that the best we have to offer is yet to come – maturing in the cellars,” smiles the representative of the Champagne house.