Too much rain can bring fungus and mildew to the delicate grapes grown in the Champagne region of northern France. This area east of Paris and north of Dijon receives a cool, oceanic climate ideal for the fresh, crisp taste of French Champagne.
The primary grapes used for making the sparkling wine with the appellation of Champagne are:
- Pinot noir
- Pinot Meunier
- Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris may be added
- Arbane grapes can also be used in the blend
The wineries use skilled winemakers to produce unique blends of the fine sparkling wines using only 2,050 liters of the juice from a press of 4,000 kilograms of grapes.
This region of France is located at about 49 degrees north latitude. Epernay, and Troyes are cities in this region of vineyards. Historic Reims is the unofficial capital of the Champagne-Ardenne region. Annual rainfall is in the range of 600-650 millimeters throughout the year. The average temperature is 11 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Complex weather patterns mixing a North Atlantic oceanic climate with some continental dryness keep the temperature around the same year-round. The vines in the Champagne region required this consistency. This region receives about 1,650 hours of sunshine each year. In contrast, Burgundy and Bordeaux receive around 2,000 hours of sun annually.
An early spring frost can kill the delicate buds and even ruin the vines. Champagne’s growers always keep an eye on the temperature. Less than normal rainfall will result in dried out grapes while too much rain will attract pathogens that can destroy the vines.
A fungal mycelium can develop when the soil is too wet. The result is a white, powdery mildew coating on the leaves of the vine. Black spots may also appear on the leaves and stalks. The tender grapes can dry out since the mildew interferes with photosynthesis and transpiration.
Grapes that survive a mild mildew infection will not have the taste necessary for a good vintage. This can cost vintners millions of Euros and dollars since their sparkling wines are the major export from this region of France.
Changing weather patterns
The climate affects the flavor of the cuvee, the juice that will be fermented into sparkling wine. The grapes must be harvested on the right days for the ideal flavor. This is les vendages, an event that lasts for two weeks during August in the rolling hills of Champagne.
Climate change is a controversial issue with many opinions on natural and human-made influences. French wine grape growers are very concerned about the effect of even one or two degrees of warming trends on their vineyards. Harvest times have been earlier during the past few years according to several sources including Nature.com, as a result of warming trends.
Scientists continue to study the effect of greenhouse gasses in this area of Europe and its relation to the earlier harvest season for grapes and other fruits. This is phenology, the study of changing seasonal natural phenomena, mainly weather, on plant and animal life. Studies on the effects of climate change with increasing rainfall are important to wineries around the world.
Winemakers in the Champagne region of France will hopefully continue to produce the famous bubbly drink that carries their region’s name.