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The reason? After nearly a decade of lackluster crops, this year’s record harvest, thanks in part to whacky weather patterns (a golden combination of wet and dry weather) will produce a surplus of 10 million more bottles of high-quality bubbles.
A Banner Year
“We saw one of the biggest crops we’ve had in last fifty years,” said Alexandre Cattier, the 13th generation Chief Winemaker behind Sean "Jay Z" Carter's Armand de Brignac Champagne. Here’s the science: a record winter rainfall helped hydrate the earth's chalk layer—vital to the grapes quality—followed by a hot, dry summer. “Dryness is good,” said Cattier adding the grapes and leaves were also disease-free. In fact, champagne makers are already comparing this year’s harvest to banner years of 1970, 1982, 1983 and 2004, respectively. “In terms of aging potential, it resembles 1999 and 2002,” he noted. The family’s vineyard, which started growing grapes in 1763, is noted for its rigorous HVE Level 3 (the highest sustainable certification) and still relies on ploughing their vineyards with a horse; recalling both simpler times and a return to the land. “We find the more time we spend in the vineyards, nurturing the fruit and allowing nature to take its course, the better the results,” mused Cattier.
But, Why Is it so Pricey?
While typical champagne starts around thirty dollars and ages in 24-months, prestige champagnes are crafted differently; adhering to even more rigorous standards. Just the grape selection alone warrants laborious hand-picking, tasting, and cutting (off bad grapes). And, when it comes to pressing, the cuvée (i.e., the best part of the juice) typically requires up to three steps. “We only employ the two first steps,” said Cattier, adding they're less focused on volume, “so we can extract the best juice with the highest acidity and the most delicate and clean aromas.” The family also uses all three grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Of course, the composition of each blend varies on the year as does “the quality of the vineyard plots and the cuvée we’re creating,” noted Cattier. Also contributing to the hefty price tag of those high-gloss ‘Ace of Spade’ bottles are the by-hand riddling, labeling and polishing.
And, while much of France is having to adapt their centuries-old methods to fit the global weather patterns, Cattier is also planning ahead. “We’re planting different clones of grapes. You don’t have one single pinot noir, but several, and with longer ripeness.” Collectors will have to wait, this year’s vintage won't be bottled until next year and will be moved to cellars with dark, cool temperatures for three to five years, so the cuvées strikes “a better balance of fresh aromas and complexity,” said Cattier, who noted their champagnes features a trio of vintages.
Where to Stay and What to Eat in Champagne
A quick 45-minute train from Paris (or 2-hours by car), drop your bags at the recently-renovated Royal Champagne. Perched on a vine-clad hill, its 49-rooms are dressed in a warm, creamy palate with modern pops of gold and glass; compliments of Paris-based Sybille de Margerie. There’s also a sprawling, white-washed spa with an indoor pool and facials by French line Biologique Recherché. And, if you’re looking for a memorable feast paired with region’s famed bubbles, this fall, book a table at L’Assiette where three Michelin-starred chef Arnaud Lallement debuts his artfully plated tasting menus alongside a Armand de Brignac trifecta: Brut Gold, Rose, and Blanc de Blancs.