Climate change in Champagne | Mains du Terroirs

The Champagne collective group of growers, Le Mains du Terroirs du Champagne, held a tasting in April to connect with us aficionados who like to pilgrimage to Reims for the annual Printemps du Champagne tastings but who have been hampered by the pandemic. 

 I found the call absolutely fascinating when it came to discussing climate trends and style influence. To accompany the tasting we received a set of 15 Vin Clair samples, 1 from each producer, of the 2020 vintage. 

All of the producers on the webinar made comments about the previous vintage, noting that it had been difficult and hot. This has been a consistent feature of the last three years and this is sending signals to the producers that climate change is rapidly becoming a matter of identity change.

Mains Du Terroir Producers Map
Les Mains Du Terroir De Champagne Producers Map

From freshness to richness

The big thing to note is that with a warmer climate and riper fruit the impact is likely going to be richer tasting wines. The famous terroir in the Champagne region means that delicious wine is still going to be produced for the foreseeable future, although the identity of the region may change considerably.

There was also more talk of still wines. A few years ago at a dinner in Ay, we were served a selection of Coteaux Champenois AOC wines, the appellation name given to still wines from the region. 

Coteaux Champenois wines have largely been a curiosity when visiting the region and are typically hard to find outside of it. The AOC covers the same region as the sparkling wine and allows for the same grapes.

Maybe the most famous is the Bouzy Rouge wines which have their own dedicated evening tasting in Reims during the (in normal times) April tasting week and typically decent quality pinot noir wines made in small quantities. 

So will we see a move towards more still wines from Champagne? A few years ago when I interviewed champagne producer Didier Gimonnet from the Cote des Blanc, he quipped at the end, “If climate change is as bad as you say, then at least I will be making very good Burgundy!” It was a joke but perhaps more prescient than intended.

Louis Gatinois - Champagne GATINOIS, Grand Cru

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The one producer who really caught my attention in this tasting was Louis Gatinois. Louis made the point that, for him, the art of making Champagne was in the blending and the use of the reserve wines. He also added that climate changing the style of the wines means producers will have to rethink how they use their reserve wines.

I emailed him afterwards and instead of paraphrasing, I have included the exchange below as it speaks for itself.

Nick:  If I presented my queries to you in the form of an interview, would you be happy to answer them? It would be focussed on the value of blending, the impact of a warmer climate in recent vintages, and if the trend becomes more pronounced, what do you think the solution will be to balance the dependence on reserve wines with achieving the consistent quality you seek.

Louis: About the blending and my point of view: I wanted to express my attachment to the blending as part of the Champagne DNA, history and style, and moreover as THE creative part of my work during the elaboration of my cuvées.

More than a query of a sort of regularity, which is secondary to me, the blending allows us to really define and determine our style and enhancing (for me) the expression of the terroir.

Of course, there is a search for consistency in the style, but if evolutions are to appear due to warmer climate and if it brings an actual new global tendency as these last 3 years, we might have to take this evolution into account for the construction of the blends.

Evolutions can be made in our techniques and vinifications, maybe to be able to keep a little more freshness in our wines (we talked about colder temperatures, MLF blocking etc), but this evolution will have to appear and exist in our blends, as the local expression of the terroir also appears.

NB: My understanding from the meeting was that you also said it would put more pressure on the reserve wines. Does it stand that if the vintages are warmer then the reserve wines accumulated during hotter vintages become part of the evolution into a richer, more concentrated style?

LG: You totally got it: if an evolution towards hotter years continues, it will progressively accumulate in our reserve wines. Therefore we have to be more attentive, more aware, of what we keep in our reserves because it will, of course, progressively bring the evolution in the blends.

Kind regards

Louis

[END]

Of course, my final question may appear very obvious but given the almost holy attachment to the notion of freshness, I was very interested in the openness to countenance a gradual shift, due to climate, towards richness.

Mains des terroir de champagne - Tasting notes with 1-5 richness v’s freshness scale

mains du terroirs producers

Tasting the Vin Clair wines was great fun and made for a pleasant change. Instead of trying to attach any serious quality rating to a wine that is still in the making, I came up with a 1 - 5 scale where 1 was a more acidic profile and 5 was showing more richness. The numbers are included in the very brief tasting note for each wine. 

The following has been pasted crudely from my phone with the terroir notes from the brochure added. For context, I’ve added the map of where the producers are located.

It is such an interesting exercise to taste these wines in this given context and I hope that next year when we can all flood back to Reims for the Printemps du Champagne tastings that there will be more exploring the issue.

Les Chaillots, Champagne Lacourte Godbillon - Premier Cru - Organic 

Rich baked pear aroma, Citrus taste, pear Not zinging with acidity 3,4

This wine comes from our south-facing plot Les Chaillots in Ecueil, 150m heigh, planted in 1963 with Pinot Noir (massal selection) on a sandy soil and enjoying animal-vegetal biodiversity with sheep in winter and horse ploughing. Harvest took place on August,29th 2020 with an alcohol potential of 11.43° and vinification with natural yeast was carried out in 300l oak barrels (oak origin: Ecueil). Bottling of this organic and bio-dynamic (in conversion) wine for the single-vineyard cuvée Les Chaillots: July 2021. 

Vintage 2020, Maxime Blin Champagne 

Cut Cox apple, lime. Much more biting fresh acidity 2-3

This wine 100% Pinot Noir, from 2 plots of the terroir of Trigny. The plots: "La Croix Mont" & "Les Chatillons", planted in 1972 and 1992, on limestone sands of the Thanétien, worked in Organic Agriculture. No cold and no filtration This cuvée has a beautiful volume, a pulpy fruity substance and an incredible minerality typical of our soils. This vintage is our 2020 vintage, aged in our cellars for 10 years. Over time, the structure of this cuvée is re ned and reveals a gastronomic champagne, generous, round with this subtlety of minerality on the finish. 

Les Crayères, 2020, Champagne Paul Déthune - Grand Cru 

More restrained nose, Citrus, strawberry, earthy 4-5

2020 was a dry year, but the early harvest was not too hot. This parcel of Les Crayères has the characteristic of being planted on 30 cm of soil and then immediately the chalk appears. This clear wine is for the first year in organic culture. Cuvée blanc de noirs Les Crayères vintage 2020 harvested on 28/08/21 and pressed immediately after picking. We obtained the ideal must with an alcoholic degree of 11 and a ph of 3 which announces a great vintage for ageing. - Fermentations take place in 205l Champagne barrels. - No filtration, no fining. 

Le Walin, Champagne Aspasie 

Apple, lean acidity, 4

This wine is a blend of 40% Arbane, 40% Petit Meslier and 20% Pinot Blanc, blend of our cuvée Cépages d’Antan. These grapes come from the plot called “La Walin” located in Brouillet, exposure South. - Average age: 25 years. - Type of soil: clay and limestone. - Harvest: the grapes were harvested beginning of September 2020. - Vini cation in stainless steel vats, malolactic fermentation. - Vineyard in conversion to organic viticulture since 2019. 

Special Club blend 2020, Vazart Coquart & Fils Champagne 

V faint aroma Stoney boiled sweet pineapple, grapefruit 2-3

Special Club blend 2020 Wine 100% Chouilly, 100% Chardonnay. Blend of 4 plots: 12.5 % La Vigne Bouillet, 12.5 % Soran- geon, 25 % Le Mont Aigu, 50% La Cerisière. Vineyard in conversion to organic viticulture since 2017. Terroir: rendzines and brown calcareous soils on belemnite chalk. Average age of these plots: 50 years. Harvest between 29th of August and 5th of September 2020. Vini cation in stainless steel vats. No chaptalization, No malolactic fermentation. 

Toulette, Champagne JB 

Feint fruit, pear drop, 2 with great tension, vibrancy

Single plot base wine from "Toulette" in Epernay, located on the western slopes of the city. Soil: Sparnacien (Plastic clay), Subsoil: Chalk. This plot has been planted with Chardonnay Muscat since 1947. Vine harvested on August 27, 2020. Vini- cation in stainless steel vats for the first time since 1997, without malolactic fermentation, this wine will not be bottled this year. 

La Grande Montagne, Champagne Copinet

Struck match, apple, grapefruit, quince, 3-3.5

"La grande montagne" is a single plot located on the Montgenost terroir in the far south of the Cote de Sézanne. This pièce of land is a high point in the village with a 270 ° view. The chalk is very lush there, the whiteness of it transpires there. - Planting density: 7575 vines / ha - Year of planting: 1969 - Altitude: 155 m - Pruning: Chablis - The chardonnays were harvested on September 3, 2020 with a potential level of 10.9% vol, alcoholic fermentation is natural. Then, the wine is aged in 300 L barrels of 4 wines whose wood origin is Champagne. 

Cuvée Mycorhize, Champagne De Sousa - Organic 

Feint pear, Floral, very nice acidity  high tone 2

100% Chardonnay. Mycorhizes are not yet well known in the world of micro-organisms of the vine. But they are so important! They make the link between soil and root. Mycorrhiza helps roots to catch the oligoéléments and nutriments of the vine need to make juicy and healthy grape. To be organic and plough the soil help the development of mycorrhizae (they are like our intestinal ora). Ploughing by horse used to have less compaction of the soil and help Mycorrhizae to create root network. 

Le Mesnil Sur Oger, 2020, Champagne Philippe Gonet 

Honeysuckle, conference pear, 2

Blend of 3 plots located in the lower part of the slope of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the heart of the terroir and the higher part on the slope, on a clay-limestone soil. The higher part being “court-noué”, with a low yield, the maturity is always very high. Blending with a plot the lower terroir balances and adds acidity. Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is characterized by lemony aromas. Early harvest of great maturity. Malolactic fermentation done in stainless steel vats. Balanced harvest. potential aging 12-20years. 

La Croix l’Aumonier, Penet Chardonnet - Grand Cru 

Red summer fruit, 1-2 lovely integrated with the fruit.

“La Croix l’Aumonier ” is one of the historical parcels or « lieu dit » of the Penet family, located in the heart of Verzy. South-South West oriented, with a 1% slope, on a chalky limestone soil, it is planted to Pinot Noir grape exclusively and is over 40 years old. The wine, made from carefully selected grapes that were harvested on September 1st, 2020, was vinified and aged on lees (un ltered, un ned) in 400 Liter barrels and represents Pinot Noir at its best from the noblest origin: very intense and complex on the nose, particularly well balanced on the palate. It is outstandingly long and mineral, true to the character of the chalky soil which gave it birth, and with great ageing potential. Type of soil: Calcaric and clay colluvium on top of primary, Campanian-age chalk layer (Cretaceous epoch) Parcel Age: 46 years 

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Empreinte Noire, 2020, Rodez Champagne - Grand Cru - Organic 

Red dark berries, gorgeous acidity 2

For 6 years, we have been working Mickael and I with desire to express the wines of the domain. Empreinte Noire allows us to share with you our vision of the Ambonnay terroir with Pinot Noir. Blend of vineyards from mid-coast for generosity (Fournettes, Secs, Vaux saint Basle, Genettes, Beurys, Hauts Tourets, Bouités) but also from the bottom of the vineyard on chalk for tension and spirit. The wines are vinified in oak and fermented with a selection of yeasts from our domain. Bottling is scheduled for May and we will have to wait until 2032-2034... to discover it with the bubbles. 

Largillier Fruit & Fleur, Champagne Coessens

Wild fresh strawberry, really good zingy acidity  ripe Citrus 1-2

Clear wine Largillier Blanc de noirs 2020, 100% pinots noirs: This wine comes from the Fruity and Flowery sub-plots of the Largillier Monopoly The harvest 2020: A great vintage in the making, a high maturity combined with a paradoxical freshness and perfect health! The wine is a little closed at the opening, still on the reserve. We nd notes of Peony, Hawthorn, Strawberry, Rasberry, Redcurrant. The mouth is complex, generous The youth of the wine is present with an enveloping structure, beautiful length A very nice verticality for a beautiful potential! 

Bonotte & Vauregnier, Champagne Gatinois AY Grand Cru 

Raspberry and pear, little strawberry, 3, good acidity, structured balanced.

Wine from 2 neighbouring plots located halfway up the hillsides on Aÿ’s terroir. Facing south, these plots are among those that give me the most successful maturity. This is where I am seeking the fruit and generosity attached to the style of our champagnes. In 2020 with the warm weather throughout the season, and on these ideal exposures, one could have imagined that the power could impose itself in force but the balance so characteristic of Pinots Noirs on Aÿ’s terroir is once again expressing this year. The attack remains crisp and fresh and then takes us to the fruity flavours and the structure of Pinot Noir. 

Les Hauts Chemin, Champagne Maurice Vesselle 

Attractive aroma of ripe summer fruit, strawberry, slight red apple, elegant acidic structure, long precise. 1-2

Pinot noir harvested in August: Heir to generation that come hell or high water, has held the course. No oak, no malolactic, The distinction of our champagnes is the result of 35 years of our vineyard’s mastery. Our vine’s soils are ploughed in depth. Today, we are still among the only houses of vineyards to practice this type of soil working in champagne. 

La Pucelle, Champagne Perseval Farge 

Really ripe open summer fruit, lovely acidity, balanced, 1-2

A parcel of Pinot Noir planted in 1985, located at the bottom of the Chamery hillsides, on a sandy-silt soil.

La Pucelle, once ery and vigorous, has since mellowed. Its wines are fresh, tonic, long and generous with a saline note, sometimes iodized. Harvested at 10.8 % vol., vinified in barrels of 5 wines, fermenting starter and on lees since the 2020 harvest. Its future: reserve for the 2022 bottling of the cuvée Parcellaire "La Pucelle".

 

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Post by Nick Breeze 

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