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A Brief History of Yield in Champagne

Words by Antoine Hugot

Original version in French below

A Brief History of Yield in Champagne

As we begin the month of August, with the 2020 harvest only days away, grapes are fast changing colour and resisting the high temperatures and drought as best they can, straining the reserves of water stored deep in the chalk below.

Following in the footsteps of the beautiful year that was 2018, the grape growers all agree that the yield could be colossal (for example Villers-Marmery estimates its yield at 12 254 kg/ha in average)[1] until 16 000 kg/ha for most of different villages. So much so that many have already been through their green harvest so optimise ripeness in these strange economic times.

In the history of Champagne, this is very unusual. After World War II, the production of wine increased steadily due to two main reasons: the number of hectares planted with vines increased, and the production per hectare increased as well. With more land planted and more grapes being harvested from the 1950s onwards, the market has grown substantially in France and abroad.

On one side, the expansion of the vineyard is due to the uprooting of the post-phylloxera vines and the two World Wars. Only 11,400 hectares were replanted and were all planted in rows called "vines layering system", compared to 60,000 hectares planted in a high density system (in French :'en foule') at the end of the XIXth century. The creation of the AOC Champagne in 1927 encouraged growth but also technological advances and investment like the straddle tractor to replace horses and work the vines twice as fast, and cover more land.

Vines planted in a high density system (En Foule in French)

On the other side, the vineyard grew in production per hectare, going from an average of 5,000kg per hectare in 1950 to almost 11,500kg at the end of the naughties. Clonal selection, fertilizers and chemical treatments to encourage better vine growth and health until the late harvests all contributed to this evolution. In 1970 we see record yields at 13,900kg per hectare and again in 1982 with over 16,000kg per hectare, and more recently in 2018 with 18,200kg per hectare![2].