Blending, Pruning and Exceptional Vintages in Champagne Fresne Ducret
Making champagne sounds like a very glamorous job, but we know that at one of our family-run vineyards – Fresne Ducret – winemakers Pierre and Daniella are always hard at work (in less than ideal weather conditions) to ensure the release of some special Champagne vintages.
Autumn 2017 and the beginning of 2018 were very wet seasons in Champagne, with rain in November, December, January and February far above the averages for this region. This means that the ground is currently quite saturated and therefore access to the vines has been somewhat complicated by muddy conditions. They’ve been making good use of their wellies!
Pruning began in November in the rain, and finished in mid-March – still in the rain! The vineyard had some snow during that period, too, so no shortage of precipitation in general. Unpleasant as it is to prune in such weather, all that water has contributed to a rise in the water table, which has been quite low over the past few years, and good soaking of the chalky subsoil (which absorbs a significant amount of water). This is reassuring because even if the growing season is hot and dry, the vines shouldn’t suffer.
Liage and Late Buds
At the moment, Pierre and Daniella are doing the “liage” (tying vines to the wires), which should be finished before the start of the Easter holidays. Access to the vines has been difficult so there hasn’t been an opportunity to plow the vines and pull up the weeds that grew over Autumn and the Winter. Hopefully things will dry up a bit so that weeds can be removed before vegetation starts growing, and the weeds get bigger and harder to remove.
Over the past three weeks Fresne Ducret have experience something of a cold snap, with temperatures up to 10 degrees lower than usual. However, this is good, because it prevents the young buds from coming out. The later the buds come out, the less of a chance there is that they’ll be damaged by late frosts. Last year, they had a mild winter so the buds came out in early April, and many were severely damaged by mid-April frosts (which are not that unusual that far north). Given the weather that they’ve had, they expect that the buds will appear no earlier than the third week of April, if not later.
Winery and Cellar
Winter is the time when Champagne Fresne Ducret create their blends, which they did in mid-February (not to worry, though, they have set aside plenty of base wines for the blending day in July!). Pierre and Daniella are very pleased with their cuvees; 2017 was a difficult year but thanks to their diligent pickers, the sorting that was done during harvest, and the high quality of their reserve wines, the wines that were bottled this year taste promising. They did not make a vintage for 2017, as the wines didn’t show potential for the long ageing that they usually give to their vintages. They bottled the wines last week (March 22) and now they are waiting patiently in the cellars until they’re released.
There has been a disgorgement scheduled for 29 March, and Champagne Fresne Ducret’s 2008 vintage will be released shortly thereafter. This cuvee is dominated by chardonnay (60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir), and will have an extra-brut dosage (4 grams of residual sugar per litre). They chose to release the 2009 vintage—a lovely champagne of which just a few cases remain, so if you visit the vineyard in the next month or so grab them while you can!—before the 2008 vintage because when they tasted both in early 2017, 2009 was ready to go but 2008 needed a bit more time to mature. Today, they are very happy with that decision as the 2008 is not only ready, but is an exceptional vintage that experts are comparing to 1996, one of the top years for champagne—it was worth the wait!