Organic champagne, a luxury niche

In Champagne, small winegrowers are trying to produce organic champagne, with all the constraints and risks that this production method implies.

By Luxus Plus with AFP

We necessarily take much more risks than others, because we are never sure to harvest grapes“: for Gérard Gaiffe, winegrower in the Marne near Epernay, organic champagne is an exceptional product. With only 2% of the vineyards in the Champagne region cultivated according to organic principles, without chemical fertilizers or synthetic phytosanitary products, organic party bubbles remain a luxury niche.

 

“My grandfather called us crazy when we went organic.”

Lise Cheurlin, who lives with her brother in Aube, produced her first organic cuvée in 2014: “We went very gradually in five years, with the help of agronomists, we reduced the doses of phytosanitary products, then used essential oils to give vigour to the vines,” she explained to AFP at the Vinibio exhibition, held in mid-December 2018 in Paris. “But organic is very difficult for us,” she says. The number of rainy days favours the development of fungi that threaten grapes and crops.

Nevertheless, organic farming is “in “very strong development“, “especially among young winegrowers“, explains Maxime Toubart, president of the General Syndicate of Champaign Winegrowers Syndicat (SGV), to AFP. It was about time: the vines of Champagne have not always been virtuous for the environment. The 15,000 Champagne winegrowers have had to abandon a fertilization practice based on urban organic waste from the garbage bins of Ile-de-France region. “The vineyards were turning blue” because of the small garbage bags chopped up in the compost that were seeping into the ground,” recalls Jean-Michel Deluc, former head sommelier of the Ritz.

 

In neighbouring latitudes, the Jura and Alsace do better for organic than Champagne,” Deluc told AFP osterreichische-apotheke.com. But the small plots of land in Champagne are difficult to treat organically when the neighbour uses chemicals, he admits. “My grandfather called us crazy when we started organic,” says Lise Cheurlin, who represents the fifth generation of winegrowers in her family. “As a child, he had witnessed the ravages of disease on the vines, and the difficulties his parents had faced in producing.” For his generation, the chemical revolution had been the advent of guaranteed yield. So she “invested a lot in the equipment“: a chase tractor that does not crush the ground, a “scooter” to weed between the rows while avoiding the vines. In total, “a much more physical work” and more working hours.

Organic is above all for the environment and to rediscover the pleasure of being in our vineyards,” adds Olivier Mazet, who has also taken over his father’s farm in Chigny-les-Roses (Marne), all in organic form, and speaks passionately about his chalk soil: the humidity preserved in the roots has allowed the vines to withstand the great drought of this summer. “Thanks to the double alcoholic fermentation, even in a so-called conventional champagne, there is no trace of pesticide,” he says.

Do not oppose organic and non-organic, small producers and large houses.

Unlike neighbouring Burgundy, where the most prestigious wine estates such as Romanée-Conti are organic – or even biodynamic, even more restrictive and demanding on care -, in Champagne, organic is mainly promoted by small winegrowers. With the notable exception of Roederer, who also relies on organic products. “This is probably because the large companies that are very active on export markets have many different sources of supply, they are first and foremost grape buyers, need large quantities and cannot afford any hazards,” says one winegrower. However, organic farming represents a risk of loss of volume. Maxime Toubart of the SGV refuses to oppose organic and non-organic, small producers and large companies, and welcomes a “continuous improvement of practices” in the four terroirs of Champagne. “The efforts of all are better than the achievements of a few,” he says: “Today, without being organic, 20% of Champagne winegrowers are certified in sustainable agricultural practices, and 80% of them are committed to them.”

(With AFP)

 

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Thanks to its extensive knowledge of these sectors, the Luxus + editorial team deciphers for its readers the main economic and technological stakes in fashion, watchmaking, jewelry, gastronomy, perfumes and cosmetics, hotels, and prestigious real estate.

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