Monday, September 12, 2011
Rant: Protecting Champagne From The U.S. (Part 2)
This is a simple truism, one which I have often used myself, yet it also fails to capture the entire essence of what being "Champagne" entails. Though that sense of place is very important, there is more involved as well, additional characteristics which serve to differentiate Champagne from sparkling wines made elsewhere in the world. Understanding those differences will help you better comprehend why the designation "Champagne" should be protected.
Back in March, you will find my original rant, Protecting Champagne From The U.S., but I felt a need to expand on my prior post, especially after my recent visit to Champagne. I visited the offices of Le Comité Interprofessionnel Du Vin De Champagne (CIVC), an organization which brings together the Houses, Growers and Cooperatives of Champagne. One of their missions is to protect the name of Champagne, stopping counterfeits and preventing the misuse of the term. They currently have about 1000 open cases, and approximately 20% of their efforts are directed against counterfeits and 80% against misuse. They are aware of the many U.S. wineries which use the term "Champagne" and they desire to change that, a worthy albeit difficult task.
For example, Champagne regulates issues in the vineyard, including planting density, approved methods of pruning, maximum yields permitted per hectare, harvest dates, and more. They also regulate which grapes are permitted, when and where new vines can be planted, and how to be more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. Grape pressing has many rules, and only whole cluster pressing is permitted, which generally means mechanical harvesting can't be used. Pressing centers must meet over 20 different approval criteria, including matters as pressing and racking capacity, daily press loads, type of press used, pressing and sulphuring, and hygiene standards.
The method of production, the méthode traditionnelle or méthode champenoise, has many restrictions, rules and limitations. For example, the alcohol level is limited to 13%, though there can be a variation of up to 0.5%. There is a minimum length of time that the wine must mature in the cellar, at least 15 months. The wine cannot be bottled after harvest until at least January 1, and the wine must be sold in the bottle in which it actually undergoes secondary fermentation. Even the nature of the bottles is regulated, such as to weight and pressure resistance.
So please understand that Champagne is unique for more than just its place, but also for how it is produced, in the vineyards and wineries. The public needs to understand that fact, so they become less confused about what is true Champagne. U.S. wineries which produce sparkling wine, far too often labeled as Champagne, do not follow those regulations, and thus have even less justification to use that term. It is time for U.S. wineries to stop using the term "Champagne" and stand on their own merits, rather than relying on the reputation of the Champagne region of France.