In this interview with Champagne Telmont, we discuss the efforts being made across the business to respond to the sustainability challenge. Established in 1912, the Telmont story is deeply entwined with the story of Champagne itself through the upheavals of the 20th Century.
Seated Figure - Francis Bacon
View original Bacon prints at Tanya Baxter Contemporary
In the 21st Century we are faced with what is arguably a much bigger threat than both the previous world wars. It is a threat that requires humanity to come together and optimise our systems to be both low or negative carbon, to rediscover our connection to nature, and finally to approach the future in step with nature.
While it is important to recognise that humans are a dominant forcing on current and future climate, it is just as important to remember that we ourselves are part of nature and that what we consume, especially when it comes to Champagne, should be both pleasurable and created in a way that supports biodiversity and is in balance with ecology.
After all, if we aspire to drink wines of an origin, it is far more pleasurable to know that those origins are treated with the utmost respect.
This interview provides excellent insight into what a comprehensive evaluation and implementation of sustainable practices actually look like.
Secret Sommelier (SS): Telmont has a long connection with upholding the reputation of Champagne - can you talk about how the contemporary philosophy in the context of climate change and sustainable objectives upholds the values of the past?
Champagne Telmont (CT): The Lhôpital family has always felt fiercely protective of their vines, terroir, and “Champenois” heritage. The courage that drove Henri Lhôpital, Telmont’s founder, to participate in the Champagne Riots of 1911 and to pen the hymn “Gloire au Champagne,” urging wine growers to uphold the high-quality standards of Champagne. This courage is what today inspires the team and Bertrand Lhôptial, 4th generation of the founding family, Cellar Master and Head of Viticulture of Telmont to complete the organic conversion of our vines and pursue an ambitious sustainability plan ‘In Nomine Terrae’ – In the Name of Mother Nature. We choose to take bold decisions today to enable a sustainable future.
SS: What is the strategy you are employing to build resilience in the vineyard today?
CT: We remain humble towards Mother Nature and what she offers each year. We wish to work alongside nature without seeking to control it, therefore we are focused on the conversion of our vineyard to organic agriculture and those of our partner winegrowers. Our organic practices tend to be less intrusive with no use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. We are currently growing cover crop in our vineyards such as : field beans , rye, clover, vetch, oats… or what we call ‘green manure’, to strengthen our soils naturally with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and prevent weeds , erosion, without using chemical herbicides or pesticides.
We are constantly seeking innovative ways to better our practices while remaining loyal to our terroir and our winegrower savoir-faire, transmitted from generation to generation.
SS: Has technology played a role in making the vineyard more carbon neutral (equipment) and more resilient to impacts (eg weather stations, warning systems, etc.)?
CT: Technology plays a very useful role. For instance, we use weather stations to analyse disease risk and manage our vineyard according to the conditions. This enables us to take care of our soil structures and microbiological life. Drones and satellites are also of interest as they allow the proper management and development of vines.
Although technology advances can of course help reduce our carbon footprint, we also find that the best techniques are sometimes more traditional : tilling, or cover crop, to prevent weeds and natural pesticides.
SS: Champagne has been hit by extreme frost and hail events in recent years. Have these impacted your vineyards at all? Did you take any action to protect the vines?
CT: We believe that the wine will be good if the earth is true. We have therefore committed to converting 100% of our vineyards and those of our partner winegrowers to organic viticulture by 2031.
Organic farming can present unique challenges. It requires a great deal of attention, diligence and care at each step of the wine growing process. Organic winegrowers choose to forego the use herbicides and pesticides, paying careful attention to each grape, and are willing to embrace and adapt our farming practices in the face of the changing moods of Mother Nature. At Telmont, we spend more time in our vineyard than in our cellars and assume a certain degree of vulnerability and humility as we have made the choice to work hand in hand with nature.
This year, organic farmers in Champagne were particularly challenged. Most of our organic crop was damaged by a strong onset of mildew, alongside frost and excessive rain. Organic grapes being free of chemicals, growers have to submit to the difficult hand that nature sometimes deals us. Although this year’s organic crop harvest will be smaller due to the trying weather conditions, our team worked tirelessly to maintain the high quality of our grapes and our wines.
SS: How has your strategic approach to sustainability evolved into a pragmatic and functioning practice?
Through our program In Nomine Terrae – In The Name of Mother Nature, we have set 5 ambitious sustainability goals:
1/ #Organicconversion: We took the decision to shift to organic agriculture in the name of mother nature, inherently a choice to prioritize the preservation of our terroir, our soil and our vines, the quality of our harvest over its quantity. We made the choice to protect our soil and encourage biodiversity by using neither herbicides nor pesticides. We consider that our wine is a gift from the earth, which must thus be carefully protected and treated with respect. We allow the terroir to reveal its true and lively character through our wine as we believe that the wine will be good if the earth is true. Therefore, despite following a true aromatic style of the house, our wines each year evolve with our terroir. We choose to showcase the individuality of each year’s harvest to its highest potential.
Today, 72% of the estate’s 24.5 hectares are certified in organic agriculture or are in the process of conversion. The aim is to convert 100% of the estate by 2025. Champagne Telmont’s partner winegrowers (56.5 hectares) will be supported by the House in their shift towards organic agriculture (39% of their vineyards are already certified or in conversion). This ambitious target aims to convert 100% of all cultivated areas by 2031 to organic agriculture (Telmont Estate and partner winegrowers), compared to the 49% currently.
10 years for a full organic conversion to organic can seem long, but in the champagne world this is a sprint… It takes 3 years to convert the vineyard from scratch and, with Telmont ageing standards, an additional 3 years of ageing before our cuvées are ready. Therefore, it takes us 6 years to finalize an organic cuvée from start to finish.
2) #stopgiftboxes : We took bold decisions with regards to packaging. We have stopped the use and production of gift boxes. We believe that the best packaging is no packaging. We have also decided to switch to only green bottles is a point of difference which we are convinced is the way forward. Green bottles are 100% recyclable and made from 85% recycled glass in contrast with transparent bottles which are made from 0% to 25% recycled glass. We hope that we will be joined by other houses in this decision, in champagne and elsewhere. Sharing our vision with individuals like yourself will help us spread the word.
Telmont transitioned to 100% renewable electricity and promotes use of ‘green’ energy sources for all its activities.
4/ #stopairfreight / overhauling our logistics chain:
In June 2021, Telmont enforced a zero-air transport policy for supply and distribution and from early 2024, Telmont will be on board Neoline ships, as Rémy Cointreau has signed an agreement with the company specializing in wind-powered maritime transport. Maritime transport benefits from a lower CO2 emission factor (3 times less than rail transport, 13 times less than trucks and 74 times less than air transport). This innovative solution goes further by reducing the environmental footprint of transatlantic transport by up to 90%, thanks to the use of wind energy.
5/ #transparency - our final objective is to increase our levels of transparency. We launched our revamped label in July 2021 : it is the ID of our wine. All production-related information and detailed contents are displayed at the forefront of our bottles. We wish to tell all, it is what our clients expect. Each Telmont bottle is numbered, enabling its production itinerary to be traced.
SS: Scope 3 emissions are often the hardest to deal with. What are the challenges you have identified and acted with scope 3 emissions?
We aim to reduce our overall environment impact as much as possible. To do so, we have partnered with an independent consultancy firm to evaluate our carbon footprint and identify where our emissions can be decreased.
Most of our impact is on Scope 3, which primarily includes purchases of goods and services but also upstream and downstream transport.
Within the purchases of goods + services category (our main contributor within Scope 3), packaging and glass are the main contributors.
To address this, in July 2021:
- We stopped giftboxes to focus on only the bottle to significantly reduce our emissions
- We have eliminated transparent bottles made with extra flint glass and 0% recycled materials in favour of recycled green glass
- We focus exclusively on the lightest champagne bottle currently available in Champagne (835g)
To address the emissions of upstream / downstream transport:
- We prioritise local purchases and suppliers for our activity
- We decided to stop all air transport to limit our product export emissions
Our new carbon footprint study is already underway, and we are committed on regularly keeping our customers and partners up to date with our progress.
SS: Your labelling of the bottle is highly informative for those who are interested in the specifics of what is in the bottle. This indicates that you have an idea that your customers want more than just the standard bottle labelling. What led to this labelling approach and what has been the feedback?
CT: Our fifth objective is to increase our transparency. We launched our revamped label in July 2021 : it is the ID of our wine. All production-related information and detailed contents are displayed at the forefront of our bottles. We wish to tell all, it is what our clients expect. Each Telmont bottle is numbered, enabling its production itinerary to be traced.
The feedback thus far has been incredible. From press to the on trade to end clients and certified retailers. They expressed that this type of transparency is what they have been expecting for years. In today’s world, the request for transparency is worldwide and cross category. We believe and hope others will follow suit.
SS: Would you say there is a climate change impact on your wines from the gradual warming?
In the Champagne region, temperature has increased by 1.1°C on average over the last 30 years. Rainfall remains stable at 700 mm annually however with heat increasing dew is more present favouring pests and diseases such as mildew or Botrytis cinerea. Higher temperatures can also lead to earlier bud bursts which favour more frequent spring frosts. Harvesting dates have come forward slightly, which mainly correlates, almost linearly, with the change in temperature. Earlier harvest creates a gap between the phenolic maturity of the grape and aromatic maturity that we need to manage. However it is too early to measure a direct change on our wines, as the elaboration of a cuvée is done over a few years.
At Telmont, we are constantly working on limiting our carbon footprint as we believe the wine will be good if the earth is healthy.
SS: How important is the role of reserve wines in the era of climate change and do you see an inevitable evolution of overall style as a warmer growing climate dominates production?
CT: We set aside reserve wines following a qualitative harvest to ensure a safety net in the event of a more fragile harvest in the following years. We believe that it is key for us to protect our terroir to avoid further climate change.
SS: What is your vision for Champagne over the next decade and beyond
We must do whatever we can to preserve our Champagne terroir and our planet for generations to come. We remain positive about the years ahead and we toast the future, in the Name of Mother Nature.
Questions by Nick Breeze (Twitter: @NickGBreeze)
*Images supplied by Maison Telmont