The spate of hot weather in the UK which peaked with the summer solstice might have marked the high point of the summer in meteorological terms but for those involved in the management of vineyards and the production of champagne there is still a long way to go and it all started an equally long time ago.
Back in April having made the big blending decisions about which proportions of previous year's vin clair to use, the whole team at Plener was involved in the bottling and stowing of last year’s harvest. This of course is the precursor to that vital and miraculous stage of secondary in-bottle fermentation. The French for putting away is entreillage which is one of those words that does not have an exact translation mainly because it is an activity that until the recent past never took place in England. As can be seen in the picture on the left the bottles are carefully positioned so as to fill up the entire space available in the cellar. Once positioned they will remain there for at least three years. Everything at Jean Plener Fils is done by hand – pruning, training, picking, pressing, bottling, entreillaging and debouching.
By May the vines in Maude Plener’s parcel of land known as “La Pierre Aigue”, were efflorescing. At that time there was a touch of frost but the damage was slight. Towards the end of June the flowers had developed into nascent grapes. Throughout this period the work is relentless. Controlling the canopy, eliminating side shoots and ensuring that the vine directs its sugary output into the restricted number of bunches of grapes. It is a continual struggle against the insistent wish of the plant to simply grow like crazy.
Eventually about this time of year an event called ‘veraison’ (the onset of ripening) takes place. Basically the fruit stops growing in size and its colour starts to change. At this point the level of acidity starts to diminish and hexose sugars start to accumulate. Whether it is strawberries or blackcurrants anybody who has tried to eat unripe fruit knows that it is tart (from the tartaric acid) and you need to wait till the sugars arrive.
Veraison is a good indication of when the harvest (vendange) will take place. In Maude Plener’s estimation it could be early in September. It should be noted that the official harvest dates are not decided by individual grower but by the Comite Champagne (CIVC) who using the results of regular samples from 420 different plots decide the optimum moment for the correct balance of grape ripeness, potential alcohol levels and natural acidity