When my family and I moved to Champagne for our year abroad, we only hoped that we would become a part of the community. Having said that, I am happy to report that we have been welcomed in and invited to participate in making this region a cleaner place.
One of our neighbours, Alexandra Bonomelli Ph.D, is the Vineyard Service Project Manager with the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin Champagne (CIVC). Since 2010, Bonomelli wanted to organize an annual clean up and suggested it to the CIVC.
On Saturday, October 6, my family and I took part in the ‘Villages et Coteaux Propres’ – we were a part of 20 people who set out early Saturday morning and got to see firsthand the amount of garbage – both roadside litter and illegal dumping – that accumulates over the course of a year. We collected roadside, vineyard and forest garbage for three hours with shockingly great results.
I had an opportunity to ask Bonomelli a few questions about the ‘Villages et Coteaux Propres’:
CC: What year did you start organizing a vineyard clean up for the region of Champagne?
AB: We started in 2014, with 10 ‘pilot’ or experimental villages to test and experiment if it was possible. It was a great success. So then, the following year, in 2015, we proposed the event ‘Villages et Coteaux propres’ to all of the 320 AOC Champagne villages.
CC: How did you come up with this idea?
AB: Since I was a child, when I go into a forest for a walk (with my dogs or riding a horse), I take a bag and collect waste – I cannot stand to see waste. Then, I noticed that farmers organized annual pickups of waste in fields along the roads, called ‘champs propres’. I decided to propose the idea to the CIVC to organize the same type of event in the vineyard ‘coteaux propres’. But it is not only vinegrowers and their vineyards who are interested, the goal is to clean up all the entire village : vineyards, forests, river banks, etc. The aim is to inspire everybody in the village to participate. So, we decided to call the event ‘Villages et Coteaux Propres’ to include all aspects of the village.
CC: How many villages participate each year, on average?
AB: Between 40 and 60 villages of 320.
CC: How many people, approximately, help in each village?
AB: It depends on the village – between 10 and 80 people.
CC: What are some of the most surprising items you have found during a ‘clean up’?
AB: Televisions, freezers, refrigerators, bed mattresses, garden lounge furniture.
CC: How does the CIVC and each municipality assist with the program? Do they supply gloves? Do they pay for the containers to be brought to each site?
AB: This is an event organized to correspond with the Unesco World Heritage Site listing of “Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars” that occurred in 2015. The Unesco listing was a good opportunity to kick off this event and inspire people. The CIVC organize the event with the ‘Coteaux Maisons et Caves de Champagne‘ association and with the ‘Parc naturel régional de la Montagne de Reims‘.
Vinegrowers supply champagne, municipalities supply the ‘casse croute’ (picnic food), the ‘communauté de communes’ supply the containers, and distributors of vine equipment supply gloves and bags.
The CIVC, the ‘Coteaux Maisons et Caves de Champagne’ association, and the ‘Parc naturel régional de la Montagne de Reims’ all organize the event and communicates with the media outlets.
CC: Why is this project important to you?
AB: Our villages are both the places we live and the place we welcome tourists – so it is important to have clean villages and a clean environment.
CC: Is there any message you would like to get out to the vignerons regarding the state or condition of their vineyard land?
AB: This message is for everybody – please stop throwing waste!
CC: Do you think most people know how much garbage and trash is collected during an annual village clean up?
AB: No, I think people do not realize just how much waste their is. Everybody has to make an effort because there is simply too much waste that only hurts the environment and the perception of our beautiful villages.
It was an eye-opening event and I was astounded at the amount of waste we collected in only a few short hours. It is my sincere hope that more villages in the Champagne region take part in making this incredible region even more healthy and attractive not only for tourists, but for themselves and future generations.
*The Coopérative du Syndicate Général des Vignerons, for the second year, will be gifting each village that participates in this event with 100 red rose bushes.