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France to see ‘exceptional’ year for Champagne despite record heat

Champagnes from 2022 are expected to be "exceptional" despite record heat and drought in France over the summer, according to producers of the prestigious sparkling wine.

France to see 'exceptional' year for Champagne despite record heat
Bottles from the French champagne house Bollinger. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

Grape harvesting took place in August — earlier than usual.

Both the quality and quantity this year are comparable to vintage years 2002 and 1982, the head of the champagne producers’ union SGV told a press conference on Thursday.

The Champagne region suffered from water shortages like the rest of France but rain “arrived at the right moment during the cycle”, Laurent Panigai told reporters.

This summer was France’s second hottest on record, with average temperatures 2.3C above the norm.

This, coupled with water shortages, caused major problems for livestock farmers.

But the abundant sunshine looks set to deliver a windfall for many wine makers.

Producers in the Bourgogne region are also suggesting this year’s harvest could be comparable in quality to 1959, one of the best years of the last century.

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Champagne producers were authorised to pick up to 12,000 kilogrammes of grapes per hectare, the highest level for 15 years.

This is set to enable them to replenish their stocks after a disappointing year in 2021.

The hot weather helped reduce diseases such as mildew. The fungal growth wreaked havoc on the 2021 French wine crop, which was also hit by late frosts.

“Many of the greatest years come at the same time as large (production) volumes,” Panigai said.

Drinkers can expect to sample 2022’s champagne vintage in 2024, as most bottles are kept in cellars for between 15 months and three years.

The champagne industry was hit badly by the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut restaurants across the world and led to most social events being cancelled.

But it rebounded in 2021, posting record sales of €5.5 billion.

France is the world’s second largest wine producer, after Italy.

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FOOD & DRINK

French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

The French baguette - one of the country's most abiding images - was given world heritage status by UNESCO on Wednesday, the organisation announced.

French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

More than six billion baguettes are baked each year in France and the UN agency inscribed the tradition in its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Reader question: How many baguettes does the average French person eat per day?

France voted on 2021 on whether to apply for the status for the baguette, for the distinctive grey zinc roofs of Paris or for the tradition of wine festivals – and baguettes were selected.

Now UNESCO has announced the latest addition to its intangible cultural heritage list, granting the status to the savoir-faire (known-how) behind the creation of the French bread and the culinary tradition that surrounds it.

Baguettetiquette: Weird things the French do with bread

A true baguette – known as un tradition – has just four ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt and is baked in a steam oven to give it the distinctive crispy crust and soft interior.

MAPS How many Parisians live more than five minutes from a boulangerie?

The UN agency granted “intangible cultural heritage status” to the tradition of making the baguette and the lifestyle that surrounds them.

More than six billion are baked every year in France, according to the National Federation of French Bakeries — but the UNESCO status comes at a challenging time for the industry.

France has been losing some 400 artisanal bakeries per year since 1970, from 55,000 (one per 790 residents) to 35,000 today (one per 2,000).

The decline is due to the spread of industrial bakeries and out-of-town supermarkets in rural areas, while urbanites increasingly opt for sourdough, and swap their ham baguettes for burgers.

Still, it remains an entirely common sight to see people with a couple of sticks under their arm, ritually chewing off the warm end (the crouton) as they leave the boulangerie.

There are national competitions, during which the candidates are sliced down the middle to allow judges to evaluate the regularity of their honeycomb texture as well as the the colour of the interior, which should be cream.

But despite being a seemingly immortal fixture in French life, the baguette only officially got its name in 1920, when a new law specified its minimum weight (80 grams) and maximum length (40 centimetres).

“Initially, the baguette was considered a luxury product. The working classes ate rustic breads that kept better,” said Loic Bienassis, of the European Institute of Food History and Cultures, who helped prepare the UNESCO dossier.

“Then consumption became widespread, and the countryside was won over by baguettes in the 1960s and 70s,” he said.

Its earlier history is rather uncertain.

Some say long loaves were already common in the 18th century; others that it took the introduction of steam ovens by Austrian baker August Zang in the 1830s for its modern incarnation to take shape.

One popular tale is that Napoleon ordered bread to be made in thin sticks that could be more easily carried by soldiers.

Another links baguettes to the construction of the Paris metro in the late 19th century, and the idea that baguettes were easier to tear up and share, avoiding arguments between the workers and the need for knives

“It is a recognition for the community of artisanal bakers and patisserie chefs,” said Dominique Anract, president of bakeries federation in a statement.

“The baguette is flour, water, salt and yeast — and the savoir-faire of the artisan.”

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