Why corks are popping for biodynamic champagne – Monty Waldin reveals all

4th May 2016
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Monty Waldin Reveals All,

A quiet revolution has been happening in Champagne vineyards as more and more wine growers convert to biodynamic farming practices. All agree that it makes better wine, reflected in both their vineyards and the glass. Biodynamic wine expert, Monty Waldin sets the scene and picks his cream of the crop.
Budding wine buffs read on.

“Champagne is one of the few wines virtually all of us have tried. It’s the drink we celebrate everything with, and to keep up with our thirst for it, on average around 1 million bottles of Champagne are sold worldwide every day.

Most is made and sold by large Champagne houses. They do grow some of their own grapes but mainly buy in other grapes under contract from growers with small plots of vines. The demand for champagne is so great that grape prices are high, and thus there is little interest in taking the lower yield–higher quality route. This has meant the vast majority of Champagne’s 35,500 hectares is farmed intensively.

To their credit, the region’s growers have launched a sustainability initiative over worries the effect sprays residues have had on the soils, local watercourses and even local residents (a recent report on French TV found that the southern part of Champagne had the highest usage of glyphosate weed killer per square metre than anywhere in France). Even so, the Champagne region has less vineyard land under organic or biodynamic management than any other region in France.

Why the change to biodynamic

In Biodynamics, the terroir (the soil, land, place) – its individuality, health and vitality – is at the heart of everything a biodynamic grower tries to cultivate; this is exactly what winemakers interested in producing the best wines strive for, and why, slowly, so many of the best winemakers are embracing biodynamic principles http://www.bbr.com/shopping/biodynamic-wine-producers

The first champagne producer to do so was Jean-Pierry Fleury, in the late 1980’s. His father Robert had been one of the half dozen pioneers of organics in Champagne in the early 1970s, a period during which anyone who shunned the new technologies of fertilizers, weedkillers and pesticides to boost and maintain high yields was considered stupid and even subversive.

Happily, that is not the case today, so much so that Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, chief winemaker for Champagne Roederer, recently declared they aimed to have all grapes for their top ‘Cristal’ curvee, biodynamic by 2020.

Fleury’s success, which sparked off this quiet revolution, continues. In addition to Fleury’s award winning wines (sold by Vintage Roots)  look out for these Biodynamic Champagne producers of note :

 Eric Rodez Eighth generation of winemakers, and recent convert to biodynamics “ to really bring out the minerality and almost sensuality, or as he says, the musicality of the wines”. Uses aromatherapy in his viticulture to help fight fungal diseases such as mildew. One to watch. http://www.bbr.com/producer-2746-champagne-eric-rodez

 Pierre Larmandier of Champagne Larmandier-Bernier converted to biodynamics soon after taking over his family’s vineyard in the early 1990s. His wines include 6 glorious champagnes and are are rich, elegant, moreish and smooth http://www.larmandier.fr/index.php?lang=en

 David Léclapart , from Trepail, makes tiny volumes of taut, earthy Champagnes, mainly from 100% Chardonnay grapes : “highly individual Champagnes, marked by a striking purity and elegance, as well as a racy tension and savoury complexity derived from Trépail’s chalky soils “ http://www.decanter.com/wine/wine-producers/grower-champagne-david-leclapart-270579/

 Benoit Lahaye, in the town of Bouzy , ploughs some vines by horse. Bouzy is known for exuberant, fruit-packed Champagnes made mainly with the red Pinot Noir grape. Lahaye’s Champagne Rosé is made in a traditional style by soaking the juice on the skins until the colour is just pink enough (a cheaper and legal way of doing is to add red wine under the colour is pink enough).
“rich and perfectly balanced” http://www.bbr.com/producer-1786-champagne-lahaye

 Isabelle and Franck Pascal, who switched to biodynamics because Franck had seen–in his previous career in the military, the effect of chemical weapons. Creamy, bready, savoury Champagnes
“for people wanting to taste only good wines and live a beautiful life!” http://www.rawfair.com/2014/artisans/champagne-franck-pascal

 Françoise Bedel, whose vines lie on quite rich soils, giving her Champagnes the presence and weight to pair beautifully with main courses “We constantly seek harmony and balance in the vineyards and in the grape. For us, this means caring for the Earth so the grape may express the Place and the Year (the vintage effect) with all its qualities and potential to produce a great wine of Champagne bio.” http://www.champagne-bedel.fr/Vins-de-Champagne-bio-francoise-Bedel-biodynamie-uk-0-1.html

 Olivier Horiot, A young turk, whose family have been making wine for 3 generations, and uses organic and biodynamic methods. One of a select few who continue to produce the traditional Rosé des Riceys. http://louisdressner.com/mpdf/Horiot/

 Robert Barbichon, another of the new breed of biodynamic producers and who produces wines of “exceptional clarity, structure and intensity.” Like Olivier Horiot, his vines are located not far from those of Jean-Pierre Fleury in Champagne’s warmer Aube sub-region, home to Champagne’s most exuberant fizz http://www.alavolee.com/producer-profile/barbichonprelat/

Want to know more about biodynamic champagne?
Click here to read ” Why biodynamics is a growing trend for champagne”