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The 2002 harvest in Champagne officially kicked off last week, with producers picking their first Chardonnay bunches during warm, sunny conditions. While soggy weather plagued the 2001 crop, which was blended into non-vintage cuvées, this year may shape up to be an altogether different scenario.
"This 2002 harvest is incredible," said Laurent Champs, winemaker for Vilmart & Cie, a small producer in Rilly-la-Montagne that started picking on Sept. 17. "The weather is a gorgeous 25 degrees [77 degrees Fahrenheit], with sun all day, and the quality [of the fruit] is outstanding, close to perfect."
The Champagne region escaped the heavy rains that flooded vineyards in part of southern France earlier this month.
"2002 will be a very good vintage if we can keep this weather until the end of the harvest," said Champs. Champagne houses will be bringing in grapes for two more weeks, with Pinot Noir being picked in early October, and the weather can change dramatically in northern regions like Champagne. Nonetheless, Champs has high hopes for 2002 being declared a vintage year.
Other producers were hesitant to make such a prediction early on, though they agreed that conditions are much better than last year. "The fruit is very ripe and sound thanks to the sun and the northeast wind," said Pierre Larmandier of Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, a small house in Vertus. "The harvest this year is smaller than 2001. This reasonable yield and the weather conditions will help to concentrate the grapes."
Piper-Heidseick, on the other hand, reported that its crop looks to be 10 percent larger than last year, with more mature grapes and lower acidity.
Earlier this summer, some vintners had their doubts about the vintage. At Chartogne-Taillet, in the northern village of Merfy, a gray, foggy August encouraged the growth of botrytis on some Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
"We were pessimistic at that stage," said Elisabeth Chartogne. "But since the last days of August, we have had beautiful weather. The grapes are maturing very well." Though she cautioned that she would have a clearer picture in two weeks, she forecasted a very nice vintage, similar in style to 1976.
The recent abundance of sunshine caught the crew of pickers at Gaston Chiquet off guard. "We have nearly never seen so much maturity because the progression was very fast last week," said Nicolas Chiquet, whose house makes close to 17,000 cases per year from vineyards in Hautvillers, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and Aÿ. Chiquet has no doubts about the potential for his 2002 crop: He plans on making vintage Champagne.
Claude Taittinger of Champagne Taittinger is so optimistic about the harvest that he is already comparing it to the 1989, 1990 and 1995 vintages in terms of quality. "I am absolutely sure that 2002 will be one of the finest vintages in the last 10 years," he declared. "We needed a great vintage. 2000 was acceptable and last year was mediocre, so we needed a great wine and we got it."
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