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Champagne Éric Philippe | The Making of Champagne Eric Philippe Part One – The Anticipation of Harvest 2020
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The Making of Champagne Eric Philippe Part One – The Anticipation of Harvest 2020

Our Winemaker, Nicholas Maillart, and established consultant for premiere Champagne brands, Jiles Halling, detailed their philosophy and process of turning grapes into our three low dosage Champagnes – 2012 Vintage Extra Brut, Brut Rosé, and MV Extra Brut. We pride ourselves on our low dosage methods as well as our ability to transport the inexplicable terroir of Bouzy and Montagne de Reims from bottle to glass. After all, why should your expensive Champagnes have all that added sugar? à votre santé! 

In the first part of this series, we dive into the excitement of harvest 2020, Nicholas’ favorite time of year!

E: What is your favorite part of making Champagne?

A: I love everything about winemaking, but I have to say the excitement during harvest is really terrific. There’s a sense of anticipation in the air in the days leading up to the start of the harvest, but you cannot start picking until the day specified by the governing authorities. Not that you get bored waiting – all the equipment needs to be cleaned and prepped, such as the press, vats, and barrels, and the picking teams need to be organized (how many people will you need, when should they arrive, how will they be fed and – in some cases – where will they be accommodated, etc.).

Whilst all this is going on, daily samples of grapes are taken from each plot to determine the ripeness and which plots will be picked first and which to leave for a day or two to reach greater maturity. You also have to keep an eye on the weather forecast – rain will dilute the sugar level in the grapes, but if you wait until the rain has passed the point of perfect ripeness – the balance between sugar and acidity – may have passed, too.

Then, when the picking has started it’s all hands on deck. There’s a smell of alcohol wafting on the breeze, the roads are stocky with grape juice leaking from the cases of grapes as they are transported to the press house, and just hustle and bustle all around.

Champagne Harvest

E: What do you anticipate for the 2020 harvest? When do you think it will start?

A: This year, harvest should start after the 28th of August, and maybe more beginning of September. 

The big question this year is not so much the start date, which is certain to be in the last week of August, nor even the quality, but the size of the harvest. With sales affected by COVID, stocks are building up in the cellars and no one wants to hold on to their inventory too long if it won’t sell. However, because no one knows with certainty how or when sales will rebound, it’s hard to predict how many grapes the governing body will allow being picked per hectare.

All in all, it should be a great vintage!

E: What proportion of your vineyard do you use for Champagne Eric Philippe?

A: The rule of thumb is that you get 10,000 bottles from one hectare, so, in theory, my estate could provide enough grapes to produce 150,000 bottles. We don’t make or sell that many bottles and, instead, we sell a part of the harvest to boutique brands. For Champagne Eric Philippe, we use about 1% of the harvest to produce their wines, roughly equivalent to about 1,500 bottles per year.

Adapted from VinePair to show the location of our vineyards in France.

E: What does the terroir in your vineyard look like for Champagne Eric Philippe? How does this terroir affect the wine?

A: It’s mainly clay and chalk, typical of the Montagne de Reims. The terroir affects the power and density of the wine.

E: What are the differences or similarities that you can observe between the harvest for Champagne compared to still wine?

A: It’s similar to still wine mainly, but we are looking for more freshness than for still wines.

Stay tuned for Part Two – The Philosophy Behind Low Dosage. If you’d like to try the wines that Nicholas and Jiles produce, visit our shop page and pick up our Eric Philippe At-Home Tasting Kit, which comes with a complimentary virtual tasting experience where you can learn even more about the wines.

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