Return to the Vineyard – Harvest 2020 at Champagne Louise Brison with vigneronne Delphine Brulez
Champagne Louise Brison
1 September, 2020
Stepping out of the car upon arrival at Champagne Louise Brison, the sweet scent of freshly pressed Pinot intermingles with the aromatic lavender bushes at the Cellar door. A number of wasps are also part of the welcoming committee, buzzing frantically in search for the sweet sugared grape juice – watch out !
At Louise Brison, it’s a family affair – Delphine’s mother and father are helping enormously to ensure her kids are back to school on time, and that lunch is ready for all the harvest workers giving her more time to focus on the important task at hand – making Champagne!
Delphine is in great spirits and pleased with her 2020 harvest, which was a rollercoaster of a season: 50°C heatwaves, COVID, and Champagne’s mandated harvest restrictions. Despite these challenges, she is optimistic and celebratory – 2020 is her first year for official Organic Certification, and the weather conditions couldn’t have been better!
In this report you will find:
- Following the vegetative cycle from autumn 2019 and work in the vineyard
- Heatwaves & CIVC harvest limits
- Rosé Champagne & Pinot Harvest
- Champagnes Available
Post-Harvest: Autumn 2019 & Winter 2020
Harvest lasted about the first two weeks of September 2019 (10 days), and while the wines were fermenting in their tanks (10-15 days), it was back to the vines immediately for replacing plants and ploughing the soil (to level it off). The cellar work also continued throughout October with preparation for orders leaving in time for Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations just before Pruning season began that is normally from mid-November until April in the vines.
Winter didn’t arrive this year at Champagne Louise Brison. There was a week with about two days at -5°C – but this is not enough time for the vines to have a real rest period. For this past 4 winters now, this is the new normal. Either winter is rainy, or dry, but cold winters don’t come as often. Last year was rather a dry winter, until mid-February, and the rains came from then until March.
Spring 2020 to Harvest
The later you prune, the later the bud burst, which helps to protect the vines from the late Spring frosts. Usually Delphine and her team tries to prune until mid-April – this year they tried to slow down the pruning, but mother nature had different ideas, and the incoming 2020 season was coming in hot, and fast. The team of pruners had to pick up speed quickly.
On the 10th of April – bud break occurred. For Delphine this was not so early, but when it happened, it was almost overnight. There was no real rest period – the team was always playing catch up, nearly from the start of pruning until the end of May when they began trellising the vines. The season was already two weeks early.
Flowering took its time to start over the beginning of June during a rather cool few weeks. It was an even flowering period for 10 days, which was a relief as sometimes when it’s very hot, it can take only 3 days. In the Chardonnay, there was some coulure and millerandage (poor formed flowers and grape development) – Chardonnays are the first to bud, and they were more affected by the June temperature drop. The Pinot Noir buds later, so there weren’t many problems for the fruit set.
June brought 40-50mm of rain. Since the rains came after flowering this year, so the vines benefitted greatly from the rains during their growth cycle. Rain also makes it logistically difficult with the tractors getting stuck and bogged. But this year they avoided all of it! Low quantities of copper were used. To compare, in a rainy season it can be between 4-6kg of copper, this year they were 2kg, over 8 treatments (regularly once a week before flowering), then after flowering they did it every 10 days/14 days. Other than one treatment on a parcel of Chardonnay just for odium, treatments stopped June 23. Normally treatments stop mid-July!
Thanks to the beautiful weather, Louise Brison had an incredible season that didn’t need much sulphur, as there was no disease pressure. An excellent year to be making your first Certified Organic vintage!
August Heatwaves make Chardonnay raisins
It was August 1st when Delphine left for two weeks summer vacation, the same timing as the August Heatwaves in France.
Upon departure when she left her vines, she had a very high potential for her grapes – both for quantity and quality – nice, even, well-set fruit. But, after five days of heat waves in a row, it was too much for her grapes. Vines started shutting down, many grapes facing west were burnt, and temperature readings measured at one point 50°C in her vines – 25% of the harvest was burnt.
Despite phone calls from her neighbours who were panicking to rush home and start the harvest, Delphine waited. Others followed another strategy, namely to harvest more quickly. But for Delphine, the concentration factor of some very sweet (because dry) grapes was not sufficient and the maturities were not complete.
When she came back, she saw her grapes, many now raisins, but the healthy remaining grapes were not showing juice above 9% potential alcohol. She knew her vines needed more time. And she was right! Just before she harvested the rains came and gave the water necessary for the Chardonnays to re-start their ripening cycle, and plump up some of the dehydrated berries.
On the 24th of August – Harvest Began – and continues until September 5th. This year Louise Brison has the right to harvest 8000 kilos per ha for AOC – this was decided for 2020. For Louise Brison, that makes about 8 days of harvest, but they took their time, they waited, and did a lot of hand sorting in vines to clip out the burned berries. Pickers are here for a slow and thorough harvest – if there is no pressure from the weather or diseases in the vines, they take their time. Delphine’s picking team has been here for 25 years – the same families have always come, and now the next generation is coming to continue the work.
This year, the Pinot Noir was picked first between 11-11.5%alc – not too high in potential alc% to make quality Champagne. The Chardonnay is next to come in. Overall there is a great balance between sugar and acidity, and great ripeness (a little rain gave more plump berries).
Tradition vs Modernity – A choice of Pressing
Since 2019 a new press has arrived at Louise Brison – Bucher Vaslin Pneumatique press equipped with Orias system. Delphine likes to use the pneumatic press because there is less extraction of colour. There is a special sensor of pressure that measure the thickness of the skins, that then calculates a specific pressure based on the measured resistance from the skins and juice that is going out of the press.
On the other hand, the pressure of the traditional Coquard is always the same.
Now in year two (2020 Harvest) of the pneumatic, Delphine feels that it produces finer juices, but on the other hand she loves the texture that comes from the Coquard. So she tries to use both, depending on what grapes are coming in. Sometimes when you have 24,000 kilos arriving, you have no choice logistically – you start at 5am, you end you day at 1am, and you do 6 presses in one day (Delphine has helped some of her friends pressing their grapes that have vineyards in close proximity to her cellar).
All pressings are separated – For each 4000 kilos, they come from a specific plot. All plots are separated. If grapes arrived all from the same plot, they can be divided to press half by pneumatic, and half in the coquard, however the juices are still vinified independently, to be blended after.
An Extra Quality Control during Pressing at Louise-Brison
In Champagne, there are generally three pressings, but the Louise Brison estate makes one more in order to be even finer in the separation of the musts and in the ageing process.
- The tête de cuvée is half as large as the traditional size with a first tête de cuvée of 10 hL.
- Then the 2nd cuvée gives the following 10.5 hL
- The 3rd press (1st Taille) produces the following 3 hL
- and the fourth press (2nd Taille) is the last 2 hL.
Other regulations decided by the CIVC
CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) not only controls the quantity of grapes permitted per Hectare (8000 kilograms per ha this year for 2020), they also control the quantities of the lees. Delphine has quite the Excel Spreadsheet to make these calculations. This year Champagne vignerons have the right to 1 – 4% of heavy lees, of which a small quantity is kept for the yeast to eat.
The level of Fine Less has been set at 1.2% for 2020. Delphine leaves the fine lees in the tanks so her base wines benefit from all the complexities of autolysis. Then the question arrives: to allow malo-lactic fermentation? Or not to MLF? At Domaine Louise-Brison, malolactic fermentation is not practiced every year, it is a judgement of each vintage. In 2019, for example, Delphine did not do MLF for 2019 in order to keep the Malic acid fresh, and balance the high 12% potential in the wine. Nature often has a mind of its own, as some barrels could not be stopped for MLF, but it is not that serious, as Delphine would rather avoid adding too much SO2. Her general winemaking preference is to work with Malic acid in her Champagnes, which is especially useful during their 5 year ageing journey in bottle.
Everything is a matter of reflection, nothing is automatic, each vintage requires the winegrower to adapt permanently and often quickly.
The day of our visit is the last day of the Pinot Noir harvest. It comes from a special plot – En val des Saults – the oldest vines on the Estate (over 50 years old) where the yield is very low. The the clone is SO4 (rootstock) that is known for reaching maturity quite early.
Whole cluster grapes arrive, and then they are are left 4 days on skin in tank to reach the perfect balance of aromas + colour – a slightly semi-carbonic start. Then the tank is racked for free-run juice (about 3 hL), and the remaining grapes are pressed in the Coquard – this Coquard press is always used for the Rosé. The cellar is built to use Gravity throughout – from the pressing cycle to the tanks, meaning less pumping of the delicate juices, but a big workout going up and down the stairs!
Rosé juices are blended and left to finish the alcoholic fermentation in a stainless tank. Once alcoholic fermentation is achieved, the wine is put in barriques for 9 months. This is an important step and a signature of the vinification of Louise-Brison champagnes since all the wines (white and rosé) are matured in barrels on fine lees to round out and develop their structure, texture and aromas before continuing a long ageing period of at least 5 years in the bottle.
For vintage 2019, racking out of barrel was done first week of June, then after settling, it was bottled on the 9th of July.
Rosé Champagnes are aged at least 5 years in bottle. Malolactic Fermentation is never done for the rosé Champagne, which needs to keep the acidity as an insurance plan to help the Champagnes age gracefully in the bottle.
The AOC dictates that one producer cannot have the entire production vintage dated. Therefore, Delphine’s rosé Champagne does not have the vintage written on the front label, but rather the date of harvest is written discretely on the back label of the bottle, which is allowed.
Vintage Champagnes Available
Champagne Extra Brut blanc – millésime 2014:
Vintage had excellent ripening conditions, grapes harvested at 11% naturally, on this vintage 50% of the malolactic was done.
Nose very slightly brioche at the opening, extremely fine bubbles.
Very pure wine with floral notes (white flowers and Bay Leaf / laurel). Fruit and citrus fruit notes develop on the nose and then on the palate when aerated. Long and saline mouth.
*NEW VINTAGE RELEASE* Champagne blanc “Tendresse” blanc de blanc 2012 –
Brut Nature zero dosage was not intentional for this millésime, but it was mother’s nature choice. Disgorged in July 15th. This is made only from Tete de Cuvée juice – usually the purest and most fine, austere – in order to keep a precise level of acidity, which takes a bit more time to open up.
The nose is full of tart lemon curd, quince, citrus and granny smith apples, which all follow on the palate. In the mouth, the Champagne delicately blooms with rich volume. Then, like a jet speeding out of a puffy summer cloud, this searing stream of acidity comes through the mid pallet. Yeasty notes of choux pastry or Sourdough starter are accented by delicate tannins, with a saline, slight oxidative note and a crisp finish.
Food Pairing: This Champagne screams OYSTERS! Or for more indulgence, Foie Gras cooked very simply, in the terrine, a bit of salt and pepper, no other condiments, for 45 minutes in the oven (no alcohol in the foie).
Champagne rosé 100% Pinot Noir Vintage 2012:
Rosé saignée from a 3-day maceration.
Very precise Pinot notes with plum, cherries and spices. Very fine bubbles, fresh and delicate palate.
Back-Vintage Magnum Champagnes
Of all the vintage magnums in the cellar at Louise Brison, we have focused on 2000 Millésime – a very high quality vintage. 2000 vs 2020 – it is an expression of lifetimes apart, not due to the wine style changing dramatically, but rather the Global Warming changing the vineyards. To think of reaching the level of present-day ripeness in the 2000’s, with exception for 2003, there is no way this could have been imagined. In the past, such as vintages from the 2000’s, the wines had this natural acidity, which will continue to be a big concern for Champagne producers in the future.