Postcard from... Champagne


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The Independent Online

The peace in the hills of Champagne is disturbed only by the whirring of tractors and the gentle click-click of the secateurs. The sounds and the return of the seasonal workers and their caravans can only mean one thing – it's harvest time.

It's not the individual houses that decide when the grape cutting can begin, but CIVC, the wine region's governing body, which decreed that growers could start picking last week.

The harvest should be eagerly anticipated, but this year's crop has been under a cloud – quite literally for long periods – with weather conditions leading experts to predict the smallest harvest in the region for more than 20 years.

"The year has been very difficult for the growers, as we have had frost, hail, mildew, rot – everything," Benoît Gouez, cellar master at Moët & Chandon, told i at the launch of the house's 2004 vintage.

But all is not lost. A warm August and good September mean that some of the myriad and sometimes baffling factors that go into producing a yield with the right levels of flavour, sugar and acidity could yet produce a successful year.

"It is too early to say, but there is at least a good, if not a great, if not an outstanding potential this year," Gouez said. "And as the two past years, 2011 and 2010 have been a little bit challenging, it would be great to have such an exceptional year. So we are confident nevertheless."

So perhaps the sound of secateurs could soon be replaced by popping corks.