October 31, 2012

Phylloxera free in Champagne

The other day I watched an interesting web-TV show by the Swedish blog ”Uppkorkat”, where Magnus Ericsson from the newspaper Helsingborgs Dagblad visits the Champagne grower Tarlant. Magnus throws himself down on the ground between the vines and digs in the soil. It is dusty. The soil flows between his fingers. There is sand, a lot of sand in the soil.
This little piece of Champagne is subsequently called Les Sables (the sand) and is located in proximity to the village Oeuilly west of Épernay in the Marne valley. Its uniqueness is the absence of the vine louse. No phylloxera vastatrix enjoys this corner of the earth. “It can’t move in the sand,” explains Magnus.
Chardonnay is the grape cultivated in Les Sables, planted in the 1950:ies. And it is ungrafted vitis vinifera vines. The grapes end up in a really dry, Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs with the name “La Vigne d’Antan”.
When the phylloxera had settled in the south of France, where it first was spotted in 1863, it spread like a plague across the country. 1888 it had reached Champagne and it only took some years before the louse had feasted on vine roots all over the region. However, the growers of Champagne had one advantage. The solution was at that time already known; grafting on American rootstocks.
A more famous louse free setting in Champagne is found with the house Bollinger in Aÿ, just north of Épernay. Right beside the stately main building we find two small grand cru vineyards, le Clos Saint-Jacques och les Chaudes Terres. Of some inscrutable reason, the phylloxera has never found its way to these plots. A substantial amount of sand in the soil can be an explanation. Also a third vineyard, la Croix Rouge in Bouzy, was louse free until it suddenly some years ago was hit by the plague. No one knows why. The ungrafted  vines had to be pulled up in 2004.
At Bollinger it is Pinot Noir which is grown in the louse free soils. The vines are propagated by offshoots and have definitively not established themselves in any straight lines. The result is as exclusive as the vineyards. Some thousand bottles of a Blanc de Noirs, with the telling name Vielles Vignes Françaises.
What a dream tasting it would be. Two stories, two styles, two houses – one common denominator. A breath of past times.

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