Wine Traditions ltd
The 2022 season was an unusual one in that here in Champagne we had temperatures going up to 107°F and very little rain–a sharp contrast to last year, when it was cold and rainy for two straight months! Our grapes were abundant, healthy, and ripe, and early analysis is showing an excellent balance between sugar (important for the alcoholic fermentation) and acidity (important for the lively freshness characteristic of our champagnes). We began picking on August 31, which is earlier than usual but not surprising given the weather that we had, and finished picking on September 10. This year, for the first time, all of our grapes are certified organic, and we expect 2022 to be a very good vintage–it’ll be a little while before it’s available, though!
Our biggest challenge this year was finding temporary workers to form our team; all of our grapes are hand-picked and we–and all of our colleagues–need many hands to harvest our grapes, so there’s a great demand in our area for workers. In the end, we had a team of 12 pickers, plus a couple of porters, a driver, and two extra people in the pressing centre. It was a great team and a good ambiance, with some experienced pickers and others first-timers, but all were good-natured and everyone got along well, which from our experience is rather exceptional! Picking grapes is physically difficult work and often the physical strain leads to short tempers after the first few days but not so this year. It undoubtedly helped that the weather was beautiful, all but the last two days were sunny and warm. Everyone parted as friends, with many promising to return next year, and there was even a group of five Ukrainian refugees who have told Pierre he needs to come to their house for an evening of vodka and borscht! We wrapped up with the traditional “cochelet”, the end-of-harvest banquet that we throw as a thank you for the team. After a few days of cleaning–everything, from baskets and clipper to the press and the floors, gets scrubbed and disinfected at the end of the harvest–Pierre is now mostly in the winery overseeing the ongoing fermentations, after which the wines will have several months to rest in the tanks before we undertake the blending and bottling.
Pierre & Daniella Fresne
I have to admit that it is hard to talk about 2021. It is the one year I’d like to forget. The vintage I wish I hadn’t experienced.
The years 2018, 2019 and 2020 were easy in the vines. The weather was dry and hot, sometimes too hot. The sun ended up drying some of the bunches on the plant, but the dry weather really allowed us to practice clean viticulture and helped us transition to organic farming very easily. After those 3 years, I have to admit 2021 caught me off-guard and left a bitter taste in my mouth.
It all started with spring frosts. We experienced a short but very warm episode at the end of March, which tricked our Chardonnays into growing. The episode was soon followed by frosts which destroyed about 2/3 of the young tender Chardonnay buds. Our meuniers and our pinots, which always start growing later, were fortunately spared by the frosts.
The period that followed was then quite cool and the vegetation developed very slowly until June 4th, which was marked by rain storms and a sudden increase in temperatures. The two weeks that followed were very intense as vines and weeds grew extremely quickly. We had to treat, weed, and lift the wires at the same time to try and keep up with the vegetation. Then came a very violent storm on June 19th, followed by unstable weather until early August, the “highlight” being Bastille day, when it rained for 24 hours nonstop.
I have to admit that until the 14th of July, I was in disbelief. I could not imagine that the weather could be so bad for so long.
I had started the season with the same goal as 2020; which was to use as little copper sulfate as possible. That proved to be a mistake since the early rains caused the most damage to our grapes. By early July, most of our harvest was destroyed by mildew, and from then until the rest of the season we tried to protect the rest of our vine leaves in order to allow the plants to finish their vegetative cycle so that we would have some wood to prune this winter (and therefore fruit-bearing branches in 2022).
The harvest ended up being minuscule: we brought in about a tenth of an average size crop. That was heartbreaking.
After 3 particularly dry vintages, 2021 turned out to be very different, and not in a good way. It seems the weather has become very unpredictable and more extreme than 20 years ago, when I started to work on the farm.
The lesson I learned this year was that it is best to start the season cautiously and protect the vines as best as we can early on, and then, if the weather allows it, relax the protection later in the season. Economically, another harvest like 2021 would be quite complicated and of course I have high hopes that 2022 will be a more compliant season.
I am proud of what we have achieved in terms of organic farming over the last four years. For me, it is the best way we currently have to diminish our impact on the environment. And yet I can now fully appreciate that in extreme conditions, organic farmers are at a much greater risk of losing their harvest. It is logical and humbling. I remember my father and grandfather discussing different harvests they experienced in the 60s and 70s; some years their crop was also minuscule. It was a different time when people didn’t expect a good vintage every year… So much has changed today! In a sense, I feel that by choosing organic viticulture, we aim to reconnect with farming like it was done for centuries, when Man did not control everything. But this means we have to try to become more resilient in the future.
Despite capricious weather from April to September 2021, the harvest is still of very good quality. There were not a lot of grapes, rather a smaller harvest of quality.
After a first tasting of the clear wines in January, we can say that the Chardonnay is delicate, with a floral, aniseed, minty, elegant character. The Pinot Noir is fruity, white and yellow fruits, mirabelle plum, it has a good maturity, coating, velvety, with a good length.
2021 was really complicated because of the weather. I lost 80% of my production to Mildew. Too much rain and hot temperatures from the beginning and throughout the season. The vines started to growing early (warm temperatures in February) and then frost destroyed the most of our Chardonnay on April, 8th. I was not too impacted because Chardonnay makes up only 10% of our vineyard. However, May and the rest of the season was really wet (558mm of rain during these 5 months) with big differences among each village. Mildew exploded in the vineyard at beginning of June (one morning, we found all the vines completely brown from their tops all the way down to the soil, the back sides of the leaves were totally white with mildew !!!) We have never seen that. The CIVC said it was the first time they’ve actually seen that happen in the vineyard, before only in laboratory tests!!!! We did not try to fight the mildew, we just tried to save the vines, to keep enough green leaves for the vines to survive.
To compare the difference between the villages: Our vines are located in 4 villages, Pouillon, Thil, Villers-Franqueux and Hermonville, 7 km² perimeter. Among the villages of Pouillon, Thil, Villers-Franqueux and Hermonville, there was a variation of 102mm of rain at the beginning of the season. In Pouillon, Thil and Villers-Franqueux vineyards, the harvest quantites ranged between nothing and 1500kg/hectare. In Hermonville vineyard, we picked around 6400kg/hectare. The quantities of rain at the beginning of season heavily impacted the harvest potential !!! With all the rain, it was really complicated to work in the vineyard. Soil work, grass cutting , …. and we made treatments every chance were able to get into the vineyard after a rain. I broke a lot my materials, tools, machinery, and there was a lot of damage in the vineyard (to the soils, vines ,…) It was so horrible !!!! The worse week was 3.5 days of “non-stop” rain for 157mm !!! The harvest was very complicated too, because with small quantities, the maturities came very quickly at the end (the sun came back) and the sorting of the grapes was extremely difficult. The picking team was so great, they worked hard and the wines are not so bad, but the cost of the harvest was extremely high (only 1,97€/kg harvested). We used a large part of our reserve wines in our bottling 2 weeks ago. The cost of this year is incredible, the cost of the supplies has become too high and continue to increase … when they are available !!!!
The year 2020 was again a very beautiful and very high quality year for us with an early harvest, which started on August 21. The wines of Villenauxe-la-Grande are powerful, with aromas of apple, pear, round in the mouth and also fresh. Bethon wines have a lemony, grapefruit aroma, with a lovely freshness.
The 2020 wine season will have been the earliest of my career with the harvest on August 25th. And also the season with the least presence of mildew and oidium, never have we sprayed so little fungicides even though we are now biodynamic. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes were magnificent. No botrytis at all. And despite the drought a very nice balance of acidity. This naturally acheived quality in the vines encourages us to continue on towards the most natural vinification possible. The least possible of sulphites, if any at all. Probably no fining and no filtration. The tastings so far of the young 2020 wines are very positive. The nose is still closed or even reduced, but this bodes very well for the natural clarification phase which begins with the winter cold that arrives these days (February). Blending tasting is scheduled for April and bottling in May.
Each new vintage is an occasion to write a new page in history and above all to understand new winegrowing conditions in the changing climate.
The 2019 winegrowing season was once again quite singular : the erratic climactic cycles meant we had to organize ourselves around spring frosts, sudden unusual cold temperatures at budding and then heat waves during the summer. These changes in weather are recent and their consequences are unknown ; with little hindsight, an evolution is in progress. Each year we have to review the new imprint and rethink our production strategy.
The musts are very aromatic, and stimulate the taste buds. They have fruit, balance, concentration with a touch of liveliness, everything is there.
The fragrances emanating in the winery are so pleasant, we can’t wait to taste the first wines. Nature has given us the best, now it is up to us to magnify the fruit of our labor.
The Chardonnay has quite particular aromas : complexity, fruitiness, while the Pinot Noir and Meunier are powerfull and elegant.
The 3 forgotten varieties (Arbanne, Petit Meslier et Fromentot) are very expressive. Their specific aromatic profiles are complementary : they combine freshness, balance, generosity and finesse. The production of the Cuvée Les Goulats remains very limited [1,000 bottles approximately / year]
In the end, the cuvées will be a reflection of the winemaker, his passion and his emotion. To that add patience to discover an acomplished wine…..
Now it is time that everyone takes ownership of their own Terroir and takes responsibilty and makes decisions to maintain productive vineyards, and bring the quality of production to the highest level. It is our credo and we consistantly pursue this objective. On this note, we have the pleasure to announce that Henry, our second son, has taken his place at the winery and that he has come to aprehend Benoist’s savoir-faire after his wine-growing/making studies in Alsace and 2 years of profesional experience outside of our domaine.
The year was complicated weather-wise.
After a hot winter (2 weeks at 20°C in February) the vines started budding early.
The the cool weather at the end of April and beginning of May (3to 4°C in the mornings), caused a serious delay of vegitation. The after several rainstorms, dry weather arrived at the end of spring and continued through summer.
The beginning of the growing season was marked by a serious threat of mildiou (mildew), which, however, was quite easily resolved by the return of good weather.
Following, weather conducive to oïdium (powdery mildew) set in, conditions confirmed at the end of June / beginning of July when disease attacked the grapes.
There were three episodes of heatwaves, in June, July and August. The July heatwave was particularly intense, we measured 56°C (132°F) in full sun on July 24th, with no wind. This resulted in “dégâts d’échaudage” (scorched and dried grapes) , up to 30% in some parcels.
The return of rains during the 2nd fortnight of August allowed grapes to grow, and kept the leaves (suffering from hydric stress) from falling.
In the end, the yields are correct and the wines seem to be of excellent quality.
While the fermentations are still going on, aromas coming from the cellar are wonderful, the wines seem to possess a lovely freshness.
Very lovely year in 2018, no problems with disease.
Harvests at the end of August with magnificent grapes, 11°
The Chardonnayare very perfumed, yellow fruits, powerful and very refined……also honey and brioche and with good acidity
The blendings will be made with wines from 2016 and 2017
The 2018 harvest marks the culmination of a growing year that hit the ground running! A rainy winter, an early spring and a particularly hot summer resulted in an early and hasty harvest on the 7th of september, a date on which we are usually still in the midst of preparations……..
The perspective wines could be magnificent ; however we must remain humble and wait a few months until we taste the “vins claires”. We will be looking for, as always, those that are best for blending, making no compromises on quality. It will be fascinating. The 2018 wines will be bottled at the end of April 2019.
Certified “Haute Valeur” :
Environmentally, we are very vigilant in our course in this direction . We are evolving further and further towards a viticulture of precision, a profound agronomic and environmental change, a mutation. And so, in this trajectory, we are in the best of circumstances, able to draw on our experience and intuition.
You already know that 2016 was a very complicated growing year for us and resulted in a very small harvest. We harvested the entire crop in 3 days and therefore all parcels were fermented together in a single (small) vat.
Which means the blending is done. The nice surprise is that this completed wine is now tasting fruity and very appealing . 2017 will be very, very, very rare, but undoubtedly very interesting.
Trying to put this [difficult vintage] out of our minds a bit now, we are working on the release of the 2008 vintage, which is showing quite fruity and youthful despite having rested 8 years in the cellar.
About the 2015 vintage at my domaine.
The harvest potential was average (in quantity) . Spring was wet and warm. Budbreak occurred slightly earlier than usual (between the 12th and 16th of april). Following, the first 3 weeks of May were very cold in the mornings (3 to 4°C) with some resulting “Filage” (unformed flowers). The vine is stressed and sheds its bud. Often the second bud on the branch transforms into a “vrille” or tendril, aborting its flowering. On certain vines many buds did not flower, whence the only average quantity potential (certain vines had ten bunches, others 3-4, some none at all)
Following the very dry summer (3 and ½ months without rain), the berries did not grow as large as usual. (more skin than juice). The heterogeneity of the number of bunches per vine occasioned a hetergeneity of maturity, therfore difficult to measure the evolution of the maturity and to determine a precise harvest date.
The rains returned beginning of September. The first rains were saving ones, they rehydrated the vines, favorising the greening of the leaves (thus photosynthesis) and the berries finally swelled.
Yes, but, with close to 120mm of rain in September, this posed a problem. The berries swelled, the degrees became higher, then to the excessive, the aromas became diluted, the yields rose, degrees continued to increase but acidities dropped!!!
After alcoholic fermentation, the wines were fruity but lacking structure, freshnes, tension. I hestitated for a while, but in the end I decided not to let the wines go through malolactic fermentation, I believe I was right to do so. So I assembled my wines rather quickly, then made a sterile filtration using a ceramic tangential filter in order to block the FML (malolactic fermentation) without having to increase the sulfur dosage. It is the first time I have vinified without FML.
It remains now to bottle the wines (the 22 and 23 of February for me) and to wait 3 to 4 years before tasting and see if I was right.
Thierry and 2 oenologues just tasted the wines from this last vintage 2015, here are some reflexions
The 2015 Chardonnay wines are already quite open, quite mature, still with lovely freshness. The assemblage with wines from 2013 and 2014 will result in well balanced wines. We find dominant white fruits.
The blending will possibly be made according this schema (this is only a forecast!!!)
BSA – 60% reserve wine – 40% of 2015
Cuvée Grand Reserve – 40% reserve wine – 60% of 2015
The red wine for the blending of the Rosé is superb, with morello cherries.
We will not make Veilles Vignes 2015, it would age quickly, risking not to last past 4 or 5 years.
…….my impressions on the last harvest
If I must choose a single word to describe it, I would happily say: ideal.
Indeed, all during 2015, from the season of pruning on through harvest, the weather was always on our side. The vines developed normally and we had no stress from risk of frost or hail, or with any of the diverse blights (mildew, oidium, insects…. ). Conditions for work in the vineyard were thus facilitated and more comfortable, notably for ploughing the soils. A slightly drier summer than usual resulted in very ripe and very healthy grapes, absolutely zero botrytis
Harvest took place under sunny skies starting September 7. 60 people came to participate in this familial ritual.
4 months after these wonderful harvests, with our first tastings of the vins clairs we find very forward aromas of citrus and white fruit on the pinots. The textures of the 2015s seem rich with lovely present acidity, even with finished malos. All seem that they will come together to make a very pretty vintage.
We will organise tastings for the blending at the beginning of March.
Concerning the latest vintage
After an non-existant 2013-1014 winter (of warm temperatures), the spring was particularly wet with a “summer-like” period in May.
Summer was chaotic, with alternating periods of cool and hot, and a lot of precipitation especially in August.
After an earlier-than-usual bud-break (a result of the warm winter), the vines developped irregularly, subject to the hasards of weather conditions.
There was a bit of good weather during flowering which was a salvation for yield potentials. The frequent rains in August swelled the grapes (and thus the average weight of the grapes) guaranteeing a large crop .
Unfortunately, a concentration of sugars in the grapes did not follow.
The sun returned in September, further ripening and increasing alcohol potential , but at the same time caused the grapes to wilt, which resulted in acetic spoilage of individual grapes, bunches or even the entire vine.
The quality of the vintage thus compromised.
We began harvest on September 9th. The grapes were quite fragile and required a lot of attention and selection. The wines also are equally fragile, a bit soft and diluted.
2014 will serve well in blending with reserve wines , but 2014 will not be a “vintage” year for us.