• Biodynamic Viticulture – “All for one…and one for all”

    Biodynamic farming and in turn viticulture was developed in the early 1920’s by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian writer, educator and social activist who lived between 1861-1925.

    Biodynamic viticulture shares a common approach with organic farming but goes further with a more holistic ethos.

    Vignerons strive to create a balanced eco-system within their vineyard, ideally promoting healthy self-sufficiency which enables the land to thrive with as little outside interference as possible: the intention to create ecological and economic sustainability. Natural preparations used include fermented manures, minerals and herbal remedies. As a result of these changes, biodynamic vignerons have noticed an increased complexity, minerality and flavour quality within their wines.

    All work is carried out in accordance with the lunar calendar. Light ploughing by horse (which has the added bonus of providing free organic manure) is carried out sparingly, perhaps just 4-6 times per year. This is to facilitate the natural cover of weed and flora which provides protection for the soil against erosion whilst encouraging a healthy symbiotic environment.

    A number of producers or domaines follow much of these principles without being certified. The legendary Anselme Selosse of Domaine Jacques Selosse is effectively biodynamic but clearly doesn’t feel the need to be certified as such. The same can be said for the artistic Jérôme Prévost in Gueux, Egly-Ouriet in Ambonnay, Roger Coulon in Vrigny and Larmandier-Bernier in Vertus.

    Some producers choose not to obtain certification as there are no simple fixes to combat any potential disasters befalling the vine stock. For this reason, biodynamic viticulture is very much a difficult and brave lifestyle choice for the vigneron. Of course this method of farming offers no guarantee of quality for the skill of the vigneron; both in the vineyard and cellar is key.

    Once conversion of a vineyard or plot is proven, it is certified by ECOCERT, the certification body governing biodynamic viticulture. It can also be recognised by DEMETER (name taken from the Greek goddess of the harvest), which is the Worldwide biodynamic movement.

    The difference when walking through an organic or biodynamic vineyard when compared with the high volume, industrialised vineyards is remarkable. The latter often have the feeling of a “scorched earth” policy where nothing but the vines is permitted to exist. The natural equivalents are more akin to a meadow and it is easy to appreciate the ethos of Steiner’s teachings for it is a far more pleasant and serene environment. It could almost be the philosophy of Alexandre Dumas with vines, flora and fauna living in harmony – “all for one…and one for all”!

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  • Is the Cru System a 'Cru'cial guide to quality?

    The Échelle des Crus vineyard rating system was introduced in the early to mid twentieth century to categorise individual grape producing villages “crus” in Champagne, providing them with a percentile score.

    The intention of the system was to ensure growers received a fair price for their grapes. However, since its inception just 17 villages have received the 100% rating and therefore classification as Grand Cru. Forty-four villages have attained a rating between 90% - 99% gaining Premier Cru status, even if this is just for their Chardonnay or Pinot Noir variety. According to our original Larmat Vinicole Atlas dated from 1944, the cru system descended as low as 6th Cru with a rating less than 50% in an area of the Vallée de la Marne farmed by the excellent biodynamic producer Françoise Bedel who is producing truly wonderful cuvées.

    Each harvest-time a price was set for a kilo of grapes and the villages received their percentage of that price according to their rating on the Échelle des Crus. For example, the Premier Cru village of Écueil was rated at 90%; therefore growers received 90% of the set price for their grapes.

    Whilst we do not know to what extent this practice exists today (we imagine contracts between the Négoces and Récoltants relate more to quality), it does seem that despite its clear unfairness and outdated inadequacies, much is still made of the Cru system – even by champagne houses and producers, with many displaying Grand Cru or Premier Cru on their labels.

    How an entire village can be given the same rating when it consists of multiple plots with differing geology, farmed differently by people with different methods and skill levels is clearly no longer suitable for a modern champagne. Surely the fairest system would be to rate each plot individually according to its own merits and the manner in which it is tended? Only then can the Cru system maintain its validity and integrity.

    The overriding factor which determines grape quality must surely be the vision, endeavour, methods and skill of the grower? Yes geology can play its part but it is not the single defining factor. Likewise, a plot may have everything in its favour and deemed as Grand Cru but farmed poorly will yield poor quality grapes.

    To have no Pinot Meunier villages or any villages from the southern regions of the Aube, Côte des Bar or Sézannes classified as high as Premier Cru is quite frankly insane.

    So according to the Échelle des Crus the following villages which are home to some excellent and often World Class domaines are apparently not even worthy of Premier Cru status. On the Montagne de Reims and Petite Montagne de Reims: Gueux – Jérôme Prévost, Courmicy/Cauroy-lès-Hermonville – Francis Boulard, Merfy – Chartogne-Taillet, Villers-aux-Nœuds – Emmanuel Brochet. In the Vallée de la Marne: Baslieux-sous-Châtillon – Franck Pascal, Cerseuil – Dehours et Fils, Villers-sous-Châtillon – Collard-Picard, Crouttes-sur-Marne – Françoise Bedel, Oeuilly – Tarlant, Fossoy – A. Robert. Épernay and the Côteaux Sud d’ Épernay: Épernay – Janisson-Baradon, Chavot – Laherte Frères. Aube/Côte des Bar and Sézanne: Celles-sur-Ource – Roses de Jeanne/Cedric Bouchard and Cheurlin L & S, Buxières-sur-Arce – Vouette et Sorbée, Montgeux – Jacques Lassaigne, Les Riceys – Olivier Horiot, Buxeuil – Vincent Couche, Talus-Saint-Prix – Jeaunaux-Robin, Fouchères – Cœssens Largillier, Congy – Ulysse Collin. These are just a handful of examples of talented vignerons who clearly produce top-quality grapes and indeed superb champagnes.

    So whilst many houses and producers still adorn their labels with Grand Cru or Premier Cru, this alone is not an indication of quality. It is therefore important to do ones homework and get to know the domaine and their cuvées.

    After all, the crucial factor is the vigneron!

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  • Welcome to Champagne Discovery

    Welcome to our website. My wife and I are Champagne enthusiasts who love both the wine and the region. We have been touring the area for the last fifteen years, as often as our funds have allowed! We are not professionals but ordinary, working people who have simply become immersed in our passion.

    For the last ten years, we have been focusing our attention on the hidden gems, the artisans of Champagne. Those smaller, quality conscious producers and grower-producers (domaines) who create excellent wines that are also great value for money.

    Like many people we are becoming more interested in the provenance of our food and drink and champagne is no exception. It is now quite commonplace to find producers who work organically and biodynamically.

    We are always on the look-out for the next new houses and cuvées to excite our senses. This website will hopefully share some of our experiences and arduous tasting expeditions!

    Regular contributors to the Champagne-Ardenne forum on Tripadvisor, we can be found hiding behind the moniker: PsychoWarthog.

    We hope you enjoy the site and will follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also contact us via the ‘Contact & Links’ tab on the homepage. We will endeavour to respond as quickly as possible and are happy to answer any questions or help with trip ideas.

    Santé

    Lee and Gita

    "Don't wait for that special occasion to drink champagne. Create that special occasion by drinking champagne".

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