Claude Giraud, president of Champagne Henri Giraud, representing the 12th generation of the family estate, talks about the 2018 harvest.
This harvest has been announced as exceptional. How do you see it?
Claude Giraud: “Great years are not forecast in advance, they happen fortuitously, like this one did: it was cold when necessary, it rained when rain was needed and there was sunshine just at the right moment. That’s why the 2018 harvest is exceptional. The grapes were perfectly healthy, and we were able to wait for polyphenolic maturity (when maturity of tannins comes together with the evolution of sugar/acidity) to pick these thick-skinned, aromatic bunches. There will be a solidity of structure to this vintage which will disconcert more than one producer. At Domaine Henri Giraud we are accustomed to working with these kinds of silky and aromatic tannins, but we must remain humble: the proof of the harvest is in the pressing and in the wine which results from it.”
There is talk of an important quantity of grapes. How do you cope with that?
Claude Giraud: “For Champagne, my reference for quantity is 1970, when barges on the Marne and water towers were requisitioned as winemaking vats. At the Domaine, this feverishness served as a lesson to us: when we were replanting our parcels, my father and I did not select the highly productive clones that invaded the vineyards of Champagne 40 years ago. In addition, the terroir at Aÿ sits on 200 meters of fresh chalk and is naturally meager, so we gave preference to the little, low yielding Pinots and I allowed our vineyard to build maturity, which explains our reasonable volumes even in a year like 2018. So we don’t have this problem of very large quantities to manage because we have always prioritized quality.”
How do you approach the vinification of what everyone agrees will be a very great vintage?
Claude Giraud: “An exceptional harvest demands exceptional commitment. Establishing the year’s point of maturity was absolutely key, just as was the picking schedule. And the fractioning of pressing batches by tasting. And then no further intervention, “the less you touch it, the better it is”, as the old saying goes. This harvest and this wine merits a non-interventionist approach. Monitoring the wine is a fine art. At Domaine Henri Giraud, 2018 will also be the year of « whole bunch » vinification of the little Pinots from Aÿ. We brought them over the peak of maturity, just before desiccation set in. The tiny brown grape pips crunched and tasted of hazelnut between our teeth, and the darkened stems snapped when pressure was applied. The quality of execution is vital in this type of artisan work: sorting on the vine to avoid damaging the berries on the table, working by gravity to avoid unnecessary manipulation of the grapes, cold maceration (10/12°C) and minimum intervention to respect the integrity of the berries. Now we just need to leave them to infuse like with the great Burgundies.”