The last few weeks have been incredibly educational and eye-opening – exactly what I was hoping for when we chose the Champagne region as our home for a year in France. Last week, I met with the Comité Champagne (CIVC) for an in-depth presentation on the region as well as its’ vision for future success.
Champagne has a production size (AOC vineyard area) of about 34,000 hectares of vineyard land which is distributed between 320 villages (crus) – 17 of the villages are rated ‘Grands Crus’ and 42 villages are rated ‘Premiers Crus’. What does this mean? Well, those villages with the ‘Grands Crus’ label have the highest ranking grapes earning themselves 100/100 = 100%. ‘Premiers Crus’ villages rank anywhere between 90-99%. The growers who have vineyards in the ‘Grands Crus’ villages are able to fetch the highest prices for their grapes each year.
Even though these labels and percentages are important – one needs to remember that champagne is a blended wine. Champagne would not exist without the remaining villages that are unable to promote their status and ranking – the majority of all grapes that go into creating the worlds’ best sparkling wine come from the villages who fall below the 90% ranking.
The Champagne region stretches approximately 200 KM north to south and about 150 KM west to east. Champagne makes up 7.3% of AOC vineyard plantings in France. Vineyards are planted, for the most part, on south, east and southeast-facing slopes at altitudes between 90 – 300 metres. Quite similar to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Champagne sits on the northernmost limit for optimal grape growing and hovers between 48° and 49.5° latitude.
The main subsoil of the region is limestone with large outcroppings of chalk – Chardonnay prefers chalky soils and Pinot Noir prefers marl, clay and sand. Pinot Noir accounts for 38% of plantings followed by Meunier and Chardonnay each with 31%. Four other grape varieties are permitted into the Champagne AOC and these are: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier and Arbanne – which make up a fractional amount of 0.3% of plantings.
There are approximately 16,000 growers in the Champagne region out of which 4,364 produce their own champagne. The average grower owns 2 hectares of vineyard land but 56% of growers own less than 1 hectare. One hectare of champagne vineyard land costs between €1.5 – €2 Million.
The latest export report states that there are 302 million bottles a year of champagne shipped worldwide. Canada ranks 10th receiving 2.2 million bottles annually…these numbers are on the rise and Canada is seen as a growing market for future champagne export.
In 2003, Champagne was the first wine region in the world to do a carbon footprint study. This resulted in immediate results with a 15% reduction between 2003 and 2010. The goal is for a 75% reduction by the year 2050. After a successful implementation, 100% of wastewater and winery liquid waste is now treated or recovered for reuse and 90% of industrial waste is sorted and processed for reuse. (CIVC)
I witnessed one of the environmental initiatives in action this week as workers took to the vineyards to install the ‘sexual confusion’ technique. Small, plastic tags are hung throughout the vineyard and act as an alternative to chemical insecticide. This is used to combat the vineyard moth (lobesia botrana) – a pest that can damage and destroy vineyards during different stages of the plants growth cycle. Plastic tags or diffusers are doused with female moth pheromones which confuse the male moth. He cannot find the nonexistent female moth therefore preventing future mating. Approximately 500 dispensers or tags are distributed throughout 1 hectare of vineyard land.
The Comité Champagne was formed in 1941 and is a trade association that represents both the independent producers (vignerons/growers) and Champagne Houses. It was the first ever regional wine committee created in France. The Comité Champagne operates on a €20 Million budget each year with 50% of the funds coming from growers and 50% from houses.
A few years ago, the CIVC launched the ‘Champagne Campus’ which is an online educational resource. They also have a downloadable application for your mobile phone which is fun and interactive.
Head to the Comité Champagne website to learn more.