STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Europe had one of its hottest summers on record this year and many crops were destroyed. But the summer of 2018 was good for champagne. Here's Eleanor Beardsley.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS RINGING)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Bells toll at this abbey in the French region of Champagne, where Dom Perignon was buried. The Benedictine monk is said to have invented the method for turning wine into champagne here more than 300 years ago. The neat rows of vines look like stitching across the rolling hills. This time of year, those vines are laden with clumps of dark purple pinot noir and light green chardonnay grapes, which are blended to make champagne. Vincent Chaperon is a cellar master at Dom Perignon Champagne. He says France's northernmost winemaking region has to deal with a harsh climate.
VINCENT CHAPERON: Well, the frost - winter frost, but spring frost as well. Average temperature quite low, not so much sun, 200 days of rain. With the evolution of climate, things have been moving in the good way, so less rain, more sun, warmer temperature, less frost. So at these moments and for about 15 years, the impact has been positive.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: In September, the vineyards are full of grape pickers. Every grape must be picked by hand so as not to damage the fruit. Traditionally, the three-week harvest begins mid-September, but this year, that's when it ended. Claude Bucot has harvested grapes in Champagne for the last 27 years.
CLAUDE BUCOT: (Through interpreter) The weather determines when the harvest begins, and it's been starting earlier and earlier. We now come here a week or even two weeks before we did 20 years ago
BEARDSLEY: In the whole history of champagne making, the harvest has begun in August only five times including this year, four of those times have been in this century. Winemakers in Champagne say the warmer temperatures are increasing the quantity and quality of the grapes. Philippe Schaus is the CEO of Moet Hennessy.
PHILIPPE SCHAUS: What I'm hearing around me, even from people who are older than 80 years, is that this is the best harvest they ever had. So it looks like it's a very, very good year.
BEARDSLEY: The Champagne region typically produces about 300 million bottles a year. 2018 will yield at least 10 million more bottles of what is expected to be some of the best bubbly in history. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Champagne, France.
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