Rare Champagne grapes flourish with global warming

2015-09-22 07:04

(Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Urville - After languishing in the shadow of the Chardonnay and Pinot vines that turn out France's famed bubbly, four lesser known Champagne grapes are getting an unlikely boost thanks to climate change.

Despite their low-profile, Arbane, Petit Meslier, Fromentot and Blanc Vrai are all traditional varietals in this prized region in northeast France and even boast the government-regulated AOC label that authenticates them as genuine Champagne grapes.

But for years they were relegated to the back seat of viniculture following two dramatic episodes that decimated the vineyards of Champagne - the blight caused by the phylloxera aphid that hit in the late 19th century and wreaked havoc for several years, then later World War I.

Instead wine-makers opted for the more consistent quality and yield of Pinot noir, Meunier and Chardonnay that have taken centre stage for almost a century.

Today, the rarer grapes that take longer to mature are grown on only 0.3% of the 34 000 hectares that produce France's treasured sparkling wine.

"If these varietals were forgotten, there's a reason. It's true they are fragile and once every five years they just don't ripen," admitted Michel Drappier, a winemaker in the Urville area of Champagne province.

But he never gave up and today devotes some of his best land to these "lost" fruits, which he grows organically. "It is my duty to maintain this heritage, to preserve biodiversity and to try to bring the best out of these grapes," he said.

And his efforts are starting to pay off.

White flowers, citrus fruits

While farmers in large swathes of the developing world suffer the negative impact of climate change, Drappier says the 2015 harvest of these neglected varietals proved exceptionally good thanks to a scorching summer.

"Grapes are a Mediterranean plant, they need warmth and the rise in temperatures due to climate change has had a good impact on the quality of our wines in Champagne," said Drappier.

"That includes our old, more capricious varietals which may now face a brighter future."

Drappier's 50 acres of Arbane, for example, are set to produce 5 000kgs of grapes a hectare this year - only three times less than the more heavily used Pinot noir variety.

Passionate about his trade, the winegrower readily admits he has a soft spot for the white Arbane that grows in small bunches of little berries and may have all but disappeared without devotees like Drappier.

Arbane was "probably brought here by the Romans. Its origin remains a mystery, a study of its genome failed to unveil its parentage," he said.

He credits these rare grapes - Arbane, Petit Meslier and Blanc Vrai, which he blends with the more classic Chardonnay - for giving the unique taut, mineral, citrus aroma to a special, 3 000-bottle batch called "Quattuor" he now produces annually.

Warm summers

Two other estates, Moutard and Tarlant, are also making Champagne from these traditional varietals amidst a growing niche market for "authentic" flavours of days gone by - similar to the "foody" trends reviving heirloom fruits and vegetables.

At the Interprofessional Champagne Wines Committee (CIVC), specialists are closely watching the impact of global warming on the grapes.

"For the moment, it is totally beneficial," said Dominique Moncomble, CIVC's technical director.

"Since the 1990s, we have observed that flowering and harvests have been occurring about two weeks earlier than usual," he added.

Grapes are now also bigger, healthier and with an alcohol content that is higher by about a degree. Higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, meanwhile, are found to be beneficial for photosynthesis.

"We are looking at future scenarios that take into account possible changes in climate," said Moncomble.

"In this context, these so-called forgotten varietals deserve our attention, and not just because of their heritage."

Read more on:    france  |  climate change  |  global warming

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.