Organic Champagne making a slow fizz into glasses
REIMS, France, Dec 31: A bubble it is not: the organic movement is only slowly taking root in France's Champagne region, although its proponents believe environmentally friendly techniques can help the sparkling wine express even finer subtleties.
Organic farming has experienced a boom in recent years, in France, too, where the wine industry has been keen to adopt practices that shun synthetic chemicals and fertilisers.
If five per cent of all agricultural land in France was being organically farmed or in the process of conversion in 2015, the figure was 8.7 per cent for the wine sector, according to data from the public-private agency that promotes "green" farming in France.
But there are regional disparities, and the Champagne region is trailing with just 1.9 per cent under organic production, even if the amount of land there carrying an "Agence Bio" (or AB) certification increased by 14 per cent between 2015 and 2017.
Organic farming is not for those looking to make a quick buck or jump on the latest bandwagon.
"If you're just looking to put a pretty seal on your label, you'll be disappointed very quickly," said Pascal Doquet, president of the association of organic Champagnes.
Doquet said he spent "six years between the beginning of the conversion process and the first sale of bottles" bearing the AB seal.
The slow maturation of Champagne, an element of its quality and the cachet which allows the wines to command premium prices, is a disadvantage when going green.
Converting the land to organic farming is a three-year process. Then, there is the requirement that Champagne must mature in bottles for at least 15 months, with many makers leaving it even longer.
Another crucial element is climate, which needs to be cool with little sunshine to help the grapes mature slowly.
And dampness is also a challenge, especially as organic farming sharply limits which treatments can be used.
For many practitioners, organic is as much a philosophy as a process.
Doquet said he has had to become a "real farmer," cultivating the vine's "capacity for resistance", while other winemakers were mere "technicians". -AFP