Updated: Apr 15, 2020
As the last days of pruning are approaching quickly, buds are beginning to swell with cool weather conditions this week - around -2°C. The downy inner covering is shed to reveal tiny pale green leaves among which we can already see the future fruit bunches holding microscopic grapes. Being a 3 to 4 month long task, the best growers will often postpone pruning to March, quoting the old country proverb : “taille tôt, taille tard, rien ne vaut la taille de mars” (prune early or late, but nothing beats pruning in March).
The virtue of late-pruning is that the sap is now rising, causing a desirable loss of vigour in the vines, so helping to control over-yield and grape maturity. Pruning is now followed by tying canes to the lower wire, avoiding damages to the buds with hard weather conditions such as strong wind or hail. But if workers are unable to prune enough during this time of year, there is a risk of too many leaves growing, which will reduce the yield of grapes per vine.
Thanks to the sustainable development, more and more winegrowers have a “terroir” approach which includes ploughing down the earth to ensure airflow and helps distribute fertiliser which will ideally just be animal manure with composted marc. This is the season when the vines are alive and buzzing.
The months of March and April is a crucial time during which winegrowers pray to ensure a beautiful future harvest, facing with an unprecedented health crisis named COVID-19. In this respect, the Champagne Committee has recently explained, in a press release from the 18th of March, that everyone must contribute to the “war effort” by pursuing the two objectives assigned by the government : the eradication of the virus by drastically limiting flows, and the pursuit of economic activity when it is essential and compatible with compliance with 'barrier' measures.
It is essential for the champagne industry to allow the winegrowers to continue the work in the vines - in a full vegetative cycle.
In keeping with the French authorities, there are strict rules to follow for all the champenois, such as;
- at least one meter between each vineyard worker outside,
- one person per car
- all workers must have special permission forms to present to police officers if requested,
- all employers must travel with their company registration forms.
Even if the vine can’t pause its growth, the big boys of Champagne have stopped their production until the end of the lockdown and the majority of sales are slowing down as well.
In the cuveries and cellars two main processes are put on hold;
- le tirage - bottling, which would require multiple people in a small space
- disgorgement, which requires several people to pass bottles to each other and remove the dead yeast sediment.
COVID-19 has obliged each country to take drastic measures due to national security and consequently, logistics, transports, currencies and businesses are in trouble causing a huge sales decrease around the world in both commercial ways : sell-in/sell-out.
From that we can draw a positive point, there is a big opportunity for champagne online stores. Many thanks to the web 2.0 generation!
While Champagne is bogged down by several crisis : coronavirus, US taxes, Brexit ... The history of the region reminds us that Champagne has experienced other dramatic
trials, being ravaged by wars from the battle of Attila the Hun to the second world war. And yet, she has always known how to come out stronger and more united!