The season of Lent this year has enabled me to hide away a bit and meditate on creation and the environment we live in and what better time of year to do it. How can we live better in a changing world? Particularly troubling is the unequal distribution of the world’s fresh water. While the effects of climate change, or ‘climate crisis’ as described by Bishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, are causing the well-publicized ‘Day Zero’ scenario in South Africa, floods and wild-cat storms occur more frequently in Britain.
I am lucky enough to be on the fortunate side of the world’s water balance sheet with plentiful access to fresh water. I live near the River Goyt. The land is mainly pasture with flocks of sheep and a few cows. Domestic water comes from a small reservoir in the Pennines and our gardens are more than adequately watered. Thinking briefly about warmer countries where the land produces wine, the majority of water consumption is used by agriculture, in extreme cases such as South Africa up to 80%, which leaves very little to go round for domestic consumption. The vignerons’ initial choice of irrigation versus dry-farming (letting vines fend for themselves) not only impacts on wine quality, the farmer’s profit and the consumers’ choice but also the environment, endangered ecosystems and well-being of the local population – in short sustainability. In their ethical chain of decisions, I would surmise that few wine companies take sustainability seriously enough.
Lessons may be learned from the growers in the region of Champagne - 34,000 hectares under vine, only 10% owned by the merchant houses and the remainder owned by 150,000 independent growers. Some owners here with 30+ hectares, some with barely a hectare to farm, have a natural holistic view of wine-making inherited from generations of vignerons going back to the time of Louis XIV, when a winemaker’s livelihood, and maybe their head, may have depended on the quality of their produce. So, my choice this month is Grower Champagne made by artisan growers who have made responsible decisions about sustainability while making very expressive champagne.
Geoffroy is a grower from Cumière in the Vallée de la Marne. From their farm of 14 hectares of premier cru vineyards, worked sustainably comes Expression Premier Cru Brut Champagne NV at £42 (available from Harvey Nichols). Pierre Gimonnet et Fils own 28 hectares around Cuis, with maximum attention to how climate change effects their environment in the Côte des Blancs, make Cuis Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne at £42.50 (again available from Harvey Nichols). Finally a natural champagne, produced using indigenous wild yeast and made with the usual blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier but also including minor varieties Arbane, Petit Meslier and Pinot Blanc biodynamically from chalky grand cru sites near Avize in the Côte des Blancs, is my aspirational wine from Agrapart and Fils. Their Complantée Extra Brut Grand Cru Champagne NV at £82 it’s for very special occasions and according to Harvey Nichols, a ‘must-try’ for Champagne lovers. The natural and philosophical approach practised by these dedicated growers could prove to be a model for sustainability in years to come.
View of the ancient centre of Avize from a vineyard road between Oger and Avize
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