The novel coronavirus\u00a0pandemic\u00a0has\u00a0come for mighty Champagne.\r\n\r\nOn\u00a0August 18, the\u00a0Comit\u00e9\u00a0Champagne, an organization of small and large winemakers, announced that the permissible yield for the 2020 harvest is 8,000 kilograms of grapes per hectare. This is a stark contrast from last year\u2019s yield of 10,200 kilograms, or the average of 11,745 kilograms over the past 20 years. It\u2019s also the lowest yield since 1975\u2019s 7,500 kilograms per hectare.\r\n\r\nLimited\u00a0production is business as usual\u00a0in\u00a0Champagne. Every year, the Comit\u00e9 Champagne decides just how much Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot\u00a0Meunier\u00a0and other approved grapes can\u00a0be\u00a0harvested\u00a0for\u00a0France\u2019s most\u00a0famous\u00a0sparkling\u00a0wine.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHowever,\u00a02020\u00a0is\u00a0a year like none other. Bars\u00a0and restaurants\u00a0in France\u00a0had to close for months due to the pandemic,\u00a0and export sales plummeted.\u00a0Some 100 million bottles\u00a0of sparkling\u00a0wine\u00a0remain\u00a0unsold, contributing to an estimated loss of 1.7 billion euros\u00a0($1.99 billion), according to\u00a0France3.\r\n\r\n\u201cChampagne is certainly the most affected region in terms of lowered sales, simply because it\u2019s linked to celebration,\u201d says Jean-Marie\u00a0Barill\u00e8re,\u00a0president of the Union des\u00a0Maisons\u00a0de Champagne. \u201cWhen we\u2019re talking about a health crisis, the last thing you want to do is celebrate.\u201d\r\n\r\nAntoine Malassagne, fourth-generation winemaker at family-run A.R.\u00a0Lenoble, recalls similar difficulties in the recessions of the early 1990s and in 2008. But this year\u2019s struggle, he says, is different. \u201cSome people saw those recessions coming. But such a brutal health crisis? No one was prepared. No one.\u201d\r\n\r\nThese conditions heighten\u00a0existing\u00a0tensions\u00a0in the region.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe can clearly see the effects of climate change over the past few years,\u201d says Fanny\u00a0Heucq, daughter of winemaker Andr\u00e9\u00a0Heucq\u00a0and owner of Dilettantes, a Champagne cellar and tasting bar in Paris.\r\n\r\nUnderscoring these shifts, the 2020 Champagne harvest began on August 17. Fifty years ago, it opened on September 27.\r\n"Such a brutal health crisis? No one was prepared. No one." \u2014Antoine Malassagne, winemaker, A.R.\u00a0Lenoble\u00a0\r\nAdditionally, the 2020 yield announcement came almost a month later than planned because of disagreements between the Comit\u00e9\u2019s two major deciding bodies. Independent winemakers and growers asserted that yields lower than 10,000 kilograms per hectare would be detrimental to their livelihoods, while larger Champagne houses feared too large a harvest could mean reduced value and market price. As a result of these delays, some winemakers picked their first grapes before they even knew how much they could vinify.\r\n\r\n\u201cI keep hearing people say that we\u2019re limiting yields to artificially maintain prices,\u201d says\u00a0Heucq,\u00a0who\u00a0asserts this is far from the case.\r\n\r\nOn the contrary, some wine professionals believe these yield restrictions will ultimately benefit what ends up in the bottle.\r\n\r\n\u201cLimiting yields allows us to sort the harvest more rigorously,\u201d says Barill\u00e8re. \u201cSo, overall, it will give you an excellent product.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s an enormous\u00a0sacrifice for those who worked all year to grow grapes to see them languish in the vines. But\u00a0according to\u00a0Heucq\u00a0and\u00a0Malassagne,\u00a0this challenging year could bring positive changes to Champagne.\r\n\r\n\u201cSome who haven\u2019t yet understood that we need to evolve our viticulture are still bringing in huge yields,\u201d says Malassagne, whose Champagne earned Haute Valeur Environnementale status, the highest possible environmental certification in France, 20 years ago. \u201cThey\u2019re not losing just ten percent [like I am]. They\u2019re losing half or a third.\u201d\r\n\r\nBoth\u00a0he and\u00a0Heucq, who\u00a0is currently working on an\u00a0organic Champagne,\u00a0hope these circumstances will lead those still using\u00a0industrial\u00a0methods, including chemical herbicides,\u00a0to question their\u00a0efficacy.\u00a0They believe\u00a0this\u00a0could\u00a0pave the way to more sustainable\u00a0viticultural practices throughout\u00a0the region.