In later years a more sustainable and hands-off approach to winemaking has been making big waves, and there is a definite trend towards more nature-focused wines. In the Champagne region, we also see a significant and focused trend towards Organic and Biodynamic winemaking Practices. While Champagne is yet a long way off fully embracing organic farming, it is clear to see that there is a serious commitment towards a greener approach in Champagne.
According to the Comité Champagne, the last two decades the region has seen a 50% reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides. The Comité Champagne launched an initiative in 2014 to reduce the Carbon Footprint of Champagne production by 25% by 2025 using 100% sustainable viticulture. This drive is partly due to market demand but also just plain common sense in the strive for the best product and capturing the terroir in the bottle.
Sustainable, organic and Biodynamic Champagne is still a niche product which is difficult to find in high-street retail stores. So far, we see the embracement of green practices, mainly among the smaller growers. Most larger producers do not seem to be in any rush to change, and there are a few reasons for this.
- In specific years up to 30% of the harvest could be lost, without using the help of chemical fertilisers and treatments.
- Many larger producers buy their grapes from Growers. These growers would also need to become organically certified for the producers to label their champagnes organic. This conversion to organic farming would be economically unfeasible for many growers.
- Many consumers have grown accustomed to their favourite brand of Champagne and the taste of it. Converting it to Organic Champagne would change the Champagne creating a potentially catastrophic loss of revenue for large producers.
We are however optimistic for the future, and so far the efforts of the region speak for themselves according to the following infographic produced by Comité Champagne.
At ChampagneHub we also want to do our part for Green Champagne and the Environment. We only work with Champagne Growers that are sustainable, organic or biodynamic. Starting in September, we will be using only boxes made from recycled cardboard. Finally, our shipping will become carbon-neutral by 2020. Our green focus is not only an attempt to do our part in minimising environmental footprint. The boxes and shipping are, but we have more profound reasons for this.
Less invasive farming techniques, in their different forms, produces unique champagnes full of distinct personality reflecting the nuances of their environment. What this means is that Champagnes that originate from fields only 100 meters apart can result in vastly different experiences for the drinker. Where the Champagne choices, historically have been limited due to a relatively standardised approach to the winemaking, we now have a truly diverse selection.
We believe that the continuous focus on this area, from growers, regulators and the market demands, will benefit the consumer, as the diversity will continue to increase - as well as making Champagne Greener.
There are 3 levels of Environmentally friendly farming methods in Champagne; sustainable, organic and biodynamic, but what is the difference? Read on to find out!
Sustainable Champagne making is the least restrictive and constitutes a voluntary effort from the Grower to adhere to certain principles and most notably, the use of some chemical aids is allowed at this level. In Champagne there 2 certification you can achieve as a sustainable grower.
Introduced by Comité Champagne in 2014 and recognised by the French Ministry of Agriculture, the Viticulture Durable Certification is a recognition of Champagne Growers environmental performance. It represents the day-to-day commitment of Champagne Growers to reduce their ecological footprint.
Viticulture Durable focuses on three key areas:
- Carbon Footprint
- Water Footprint
Currently, more than 15% of Champagne Growers hold this certification.
Haute Valeur Environmental (HVE)
High environmental value in English is a national standard where Agricultural Producers implement particularly environmentally-friendly practices which focusses around the preservation of terroir.
Haute Valeur Environmental focusses on four key areas:
- Biodiversity preservation
- plant protection strategy
- management of fertiliser use
- management of water.
Out of the 34000 hectares of vines dedicated for Champagne, only around 1,9% are certified organic. The reasons for this could perhaps be found in the words of Pascal Doquet, an amazing Champagne Grower and the President of the association of Organic Champagne. "If you're just looking to put a pretty seal on your label, you'll be disappointed very quickly!". He spent six years from the time when he began the conversion to Organic Practices, to he sold the first bottle. The long-time is due to, on one part the maturing requirements of Champagne - it must mature a minimum of 15 months in the bottle, while many mature much longer.
On the other hand, converting the land to organic farming is a three-year process. Other elements play a role, crucially the climate which ideally should be cool with limited sunshine to help the grapes mature slowly. Too much dampness could also spell trouble, as organic farming significantly limits the treatments allowed to protect against diseases and other infestations in the vines. The primary example is that any use of chemicals is not permitted.
At 1,5% of the Champagne Growers, we find the very top-end of environmentally focused ambitions; the biodynamic Growers. In France, there are two certifications of biodynamic growers
Demeter is the most restrictive system of Biodynamic Agriculture. It imposes a direction for members to follow, with little or no freedom to sway from the regulations of the certification.
Biodyvin follows more or less the same principles as Demeter. It does, however, give freedom to experiment and find the optimal path for the specific grower, rather than prescribing a one size fit all
Biodynamic growing, under both certifications, goes far beyond organic farming. This type of agriculture means that not only is the use of any chemicals in the vineyard is forbidden, like with organic agriculture. Biodynamic agriculture is a highly complex and specialised way of farming. It encompasses the use of manure in the fields, spraying the vines with different organic concoctions, e.g. Green Tea and even considers moon phases. The general cold and relatively wet climate of the Champagne Region makes this farming difficult, yet there is an increased drive towards this type of agriculture. The journey is due to a realisation that to positively impact climate change, farming methods need to change back towards cultivation methods used more than a century ago.
Biodynamic viticulture is more labour intensive and costly than otherwise, but the reward is in the bottle; the natural sweetness requires a lower dosage, resulting in a clearer expression of the terroir.
While Smaller producers pioneered biodynamic winemaking in Champagne, we are now seeing the larger ones starting to catch on. Most notably Louis Roederer whom aims for their top Cuveé, Cristal being 100% biodynamic in 2020. Currently, Cristal Rosé is fully biodynamic while Cristal is at 70 %.