Winter was vigorous and rainy. Since the first days of January a glacial and persistent cold descended on the vineyards of Champagne, sometimes accompanied by snow. 12 days below -5°C was recorded during January and February, several days without thawing, with some damage here and there. The vine was slow to wake up.
After 7th March, a period which was very warm and sunny, dryness was largely prevalent until the end of the month without any sudden downpours. The vine profited and bud break (7th April for Pinot Noir and 8th April for Meunier), Chardonnay (29th March) was largely finished by the beginning of April. It's then that Champagne had its most catastrophic frosts in the last 70 years, similar to those of 1930, 1936, 1951, and 1957.
From 7th to 11th April, cold temperatures over the whole Appellation often registered below –6°C sometimes descending to –11°C. Even if the first periods of frost took place under dry conditions which limited the damage, that of 11th April arrived during high humidity after having snowed the day before. The damage was considerable, 43% of vineyards were destroyed up to 100%, touching above all the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Meunier came out better.
May, mild and generally sunny, offered a short respite to the Champenois who, on 4 June (Dormans and Montage de Reims), 8 June (Villenauxe), 10 June Vallée de la Marne et Vallée de l’Ardre) had to confront hail storms which arrived with a rare violence. In the vineyards the damage was exceptional with an almost total defoliation of the vines and complete destruction over 600 hectares.
Full flowering occurred 7th June for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, 8th June for Meunier. Flowering was over quickly given the hot and sunny weather, which allied to a low yield, allowed for an early harvest. Fruit set came without coulure (shatter) or other problems.
A very hot, dry and sunny July followed by a persistently stifling and canicular August coupled with exceptional sunny spells accelerated things even more and permitted a very rapid accumulation of sugards.
Not seen since 1822, harvest started on 18th August for the Côte des Bar then for the rest 25th August, to finish in most communes between 5th and 7th September. As a result of the Spring frosts and the low volumes harvested, vinegrowers passed over the vines once again in early October to collect grapes from the second generation.
Grapes from 2003 were magnificent: very ripe and very sound. Natural alcohol was 10.5% and total acidity rather low at 5.8gH2SO4/l. Average yield was 8,256kg/ha.
Wines from Chardonnay were rich and generous, pliant, fat and 'peu vifs'. Wines from Pinot Noir were harmonious and balanced, with evolution character qiuite marked, preserved fruits, jam and buttery notes. Meunier were round and fresh with an exceptional structure and equilibrium.
[Source : Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne - Epernay/translation FineWineJournal]