After a mild and unusually dry winter, the 2017 growing season began with a series of aggressive frosts in April, with no fewer than 12 nights of freezing temperatures. This was particularly dangerous for the most precocious terroirs, where early growth had been accelerated due to the warm spring temperatures, and in all, a total of 22,000 hectares of vines were affected across the appellation. Following this, though, the weather turned warm again, with a period of hot weather in May and above-average temperatures lasting through May and June, promoting an early and healthy flowering. This also meant that rainfall remained below average as well through the first six months of the year, although nature abruptly reversed course in July, and as is typical in Champagne in the modern day, the summer was largely wet and humid, the rainiest since 2001, and there was even a little hail in various sectors in both July and August. It wasn’t until the last week of August that the temperatures rose above average levels, yet due to the early flowering, harvest was also unusually early.
Picking began in Montgueux on the 26th of August, and in many villages of the Côte des Bar between the 28th and 31st. While a few villages in the Sézanne and Massif de St-Thierry also began harvest at the end of August, most villages in the Marne started picking during the first few days of September, with the latest in the Vallée de la Marne starting between the 6th and the 9th. The weather during harvest was warm, yet rain remained persistent through the first two weeks of September, provoking a widespread threat of botrytis. In the red grape varieties in particular, a severe triage was necessary at harvest, and the decision of when to pick was sometimes a race between gaining an acceptable amount of sugar ripeness and managing the spread of rot. In general, though, ripeness was high overall, and ironically, in some cases it was even too ripe.
Opinions on the 2017s varied from the beginning, with many growers citing the challenges and difficulties of rain and rot, and others pleased with what they were able to accomplish in spite of adversity. However, this also reflected a wide diversity of conditions across the Champagne region, and 2017 was anything but homogeneous in character, with different terroirs experiencing different weather patterns, maladies and rates of ripening. Grape variety was significant as well: while pinot noir was extremely challenging, and meunier even more so, chardonnay actually fared quite well, and in the end 2017 appears to be a high-quality vintage for chardonnay not only in the Côte des Blancs, but in many sectors across the appellation. In the end, much depends upon specific growers and terroirs, and while 2017 is a difficult vintage to generalize, there will be many individual successes to be found around the Champagne region.