Harvest in Champagne, September 2021

I spent yesterday in the vineyards of the north-facing slopes of the Montagne-de-Reims, primarily in Verzenay, but also in Mailly, with the team from Champagne Mumm. It’s harvest time, and this is the end of a really difficult growing season. The region was hit with spring frosts, and all summer it hasn’t stopped raining, which has made controlling downy mildew a real problem.

But around Verzenay, it’s not looking too bad, as you can see from the pictures. ‘The best areas are the north and south of the Montagne de Reims,’ says chef de caves Laurent Frenet. ‘Especially the black grapes. The best quality and quantity is Verzenay, Verzy, Ambonnay and Bouzy. All the rest is unfortunately very complicated.’ He adds, ‘it is a shame for the wine growers.’

Verzenay: the yellow in the centre is the stack of picking crates outside the Mumm press house in the village: this was the first press house out in the vineyard, and was built by GH Mumm in 1843

Mumm have 215 hectares of their own vineyards, and more than 1000 hectares farmed by growers that supply them.

Here’s a short film of the vintage, including pressing and tasting the juices:

Pickers arriving

‘I was very afraid a month ago,’ says Frenet. ‘Now it is much better than we hoped.’

Bernard Pineau, sustainable viticulture manager, explaining the house’s experiments with regenerative agriculture
One of the regenerative plots in Mailly

The policy this year is not to keep the grapes too long before pressing

Disease pressure has been high: botrytis on the left, mildew on the right
Chardonnay
Before the grapes are picked they send a Collard down the rows which shatters the leaves with pulses of air, making the fruit easier to find for the pickers and also helping to dry it out
Pinot Noir ready to go (notice the fractured leaf)
The grapes are picked into plastic bins that take 50 kg. This needs two people to lift into the press, but it helps the press get filled quicker, which is a good thing.
Most Champagne houses have press stations in the vineyards, which helps with quality. This is Mumm’s one in Mailly, and it has two state of the art Coquard presses, each of which take 8 tons of grapes
The juice is collected and separated into three portions. Some houses will discard the first part of the juice, and then the top quality is called the cuvée (510 litres per tonne), and then the taille (this is sold off, and is usually 125 litres per tonne). You get about 630 litres of juice per tonne of grapes.
The juice is settled in these tanks and then sent the next day by tanker to the winery for fermentation.
Laurent Frenet giving us a taste of the juice