During the fall after the harvest of 2013, the Champagne region was inundated by heavy rains, averaging 30 to 40 percent more than normal yet reaching up to 200 percent above normal in certain areas of the Aube. The beginning of 2014, though, was notably mild, with little frost and relatively warm winter temperatures. Ironically, after all of that rain, the spring was unusually warm and dry, with record-breaking sunshine, and most areas received just 20 to 40 percent of normal rainfall between the months of March and June. The wet weather returned in full force over the summer, however, as July and August saw depressing amounts of rain, along with cool temperatures that threatened the development of ripening. Just as all appeared lost, the sun emerged in September, bringing several weeks of warm, dry conditions that rapidly caused sugar levels to rise. In the end, ripeness was relatively high, albeit the result of rapid accumulation rather than steady growth, and acidity levels remained higher than average for the previous decade. The yields were also fairly generous, averaging 14,000 kg/ha—surprisingly, botrytis remained under control despite all of the season’s rains, but a bigger (and lesser understood) problem was the appearance of a particularly pernicious type of vinegar fly (drosophila suzukii), the most widely seen incidence of this in the Champagne region to date. This fly attacked ripe, healthy grapes, resulting in acetic rot, and it seemed to be present in all areas of the region, forcing growers to select carefully at harvest.
Opinions of the 2014 vintage were mixed from the beginning, with some producers rejoicing in the late burst of ripening that saved the vintage and others feeling that this was still insufficient to overcome the deficiencies of the growing season. Even today, 2014 has never really been highly celebrated, generally falling in the shadow of 2012 and 2013. Yet as time goes on, the wines have proven to be consistently satisfying, especially from those producers who worked diligently and conscientiously in the vineyards. The 2014s tend to be generous in build and forward in fruit, feeling relatively approachable and inviting in their youth. This isn’t to say that they don’t have the structure to age, but many are already showing well now while their counterparts from 2013 and 2012 appear more constricted and reticent. Often when tasting 2014s I feel a certain earthiness—not at all in a pejorative way, and not a mold-related thing like the geosmin of 2005 nor an earthy aroma like that of aged wine, but rather a baritone, grounded structure and build that seems elementally of the earth, in a way that, say, 2004 feels elementally of the air in its lilting, lifted weightlessness. As more and more top wines have been released, and as 2014 champagnes in general gain more post-disgorgement age, my opinion of the vintage has steadily increased, and I think that the trio of 2012, 2013 and 2014 is particularly striking for its high quality and its diversity of characters.
For more on the 2014 vintage, see this article and video from my report in the summer of 2015.