The 2020 "COVID-19" Harvest Report
Despite all the chaos...the vines don't know!
by Nelson Abreu
One of my first realizations of the impact of the pandemic was the collapse in sales of premium wines and most noticeably how sales of the ultimate celebratory social drink Champagne, flopped!
In the town of Oger in the Champagne region of France, Elodie Bilodeau co-owner of Champagne Chapuy describes 2020 as the 'weird' harvest. "As the sales of Champagne were collapsing worldwide in 2020, our trade-union presidents decided to adapt the level of harvest in order to avoid a phenomenon of «overproduction». Although we had around 12,000 Kg/ha of grapes potentially available in the vineyards, the yield limit was set at 8000 kg/ha. This means that in 3 years when the 2020 bottling is released, if the market has recovered from the crisis, we risk a short supply!!"
Champagne Chapuy's entire harvest team and everyone working in the winery required negative Covid tests before reporting. Harvesters work in pairs and maneuver heavy cases of grapes so they needed to eliminate the possibility of contamination even though everyone wore masks and kept as much distance as possible. They stocked the winery with supplies in advance and a family lockdown ensued. Elodie's mother cooked for everyone! They worked and ate together daily until the harvest was complete. Visits and visitors were not permitted.
As we recall Italy was one of the first and hardest hit by COVID-19. A few kilometres outside Verona, our Valpolicella producer Musella Winery, whose estate is located on a nationally demarcated forestland, is quite isolated from mainstream traffic. Owner Maddalena Pasqua recalls that the quality of the vintage was extraordinary until August 23rd when a hurricane caused severe damage in parts of the region and adjusted a potentially extraordinary harvest to simply a good one." Covid restrictions prevented the entry of seasonal harvest workers which was overcome by the surplus of locals looking for opportunities to remain employed. The biggest impact on this artisanal producer was sales. With craft product not destined for supermarkets, no tourism, no wine fairs and no vacations they relied on the export market, distributors with established customers and online sales. Maddalena's biggest concern is that despite what they've experienced the situation persists, "Worst is the situation is not finished at all. The world is in trouble and we don’t see any short solution. Maybe we should start to think differently, I mean differently than before and try to see some new vision."
In the Alto Adige region of Italy Peter Zemmer described a perfect vintage for whites! Early in the season the regional wine regulating organization, The Consortium of Alto Adige Wines, decided mid-summer that growers would thin their crops "between 4% and 31% depending on the variety" given lower global consumption and supply chain constraints in order to prevent excessive stock situations that could negatively affect prices. The result, a smaller yield of concentrated high quality fruit!