Champagne, a vineyard on the edge

Rated as the most northerly vineyard of France.

Isabel Chuecos-Ruiz. 12/05/2015
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Urban, horse Marguet in the vineyard Champagne Ambonnay

Viticulture has some geographic boundaries for its development and we know that the ideal fringe for the grape growing is situated between parallels 30° and 50° North latitude and between 30º and 40º South latitude. Considering this, we see that the Champagne, rated as the most northerly of France, is a vineyard on the edge. We could talk of ‘red line’ because we are at 49° North latitude 5 of Reims and 48° in Bar-sur-Seine to the south. Average temperatures for proper development of the crop should be higher than the 9º C, the optimum being between 11°C and 18°C, below these limits the vineyard is unable to mature and often their survival is in danger.

We could say that the Champenois terroir has two distinctive features: north latitude with a geographic location on the northern edge of grape growing and a dual climate that makes the region is subject to a double climate: oceanic and continental. The oceanic influence brings steady rain, without significant changes in seasonal temperatures. And the continental influence, ensures ideal levels of sunlight in summer, but also often brings devastating frosts of winter.

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Claude Kossura, geologist talking Vineyard Champagne

Throughout the year the vineyard is influenced by these climatic variations. With winter frosts which can range from 1-3 days below 10ºC and spring frosts can destroy the sprouts. Even the summer, sometimes, brings violent storms that can damage the vines. The vineyard needs generally well defined climatic requirements, which are determined mainly by: the temperature, sunlight and rainfall. Although the maturity of the grapes is very different depending on the variety: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

One of the consequences of climate change is the increase in average temperatures, which in some extreme viticulture wine regions like Champagne, are improving. This rise of the temperatures prolongs the growing period of the vine, influencing the maturity and the final quality of the wine. In recent years the Champagne has grown from an average temperature of 10,2ºC in 1961 to 11,7ºC today, ie which has increased 1.5 degrees in 50 years. Another consequence of climate change is that it has brought forward the harvest, in so far this century, for example, it has been harvests in August vintages: 2003, 2007, 2011.

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Cumières, Premier Cru

But we find the great complexity in the large number of plots offered by the region. It is a large tapestry of vineyards with different orientations always seeking places that facilitate ripening. Talking about viticulture is much more complex because the predominant climate is modified according to the mesoclima of each area, which are the particular geographical conditions such as altitude, latitude, exposure of the vineyard, prevailing winds, proximity to the water and forestry, etc. Climate, mesoclimate and microclimate in each particular plot, this gives to a doctoral thesis topic. (Photographs: Isabel Chuecos-Ruiz)

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