Touring Champagne with Sustainability in Mind

Note how far away the Aube region (lower right corner) is from the other Champagne regions Champagne region map courtesy of Comité Champagne (https://www.champagne.fr/en/homepage)

The Challenge of Growing Grapes in Champagne
The Champagne region is located at the northern limit of where wine grapes will grow. The climate is classified as cool continental, which means grape growers in Champagne contend with a short growing season with frequent rain throughout the year. The weather brings threats of spring killing frost, hail, and excessive cool rainy weather with resulting crop damage and loss, especially due to downy and powdery mildew from frequent rain. 2021 was a disastrous year for weather as all these threats were present throughout the region. A tough year like 2021 puts sustainability efforts to a test, bringing to light some of the challenges.

A Visit to Study Sustainability in Champagne
With international travel finally possible, we took the opportunity to visit France this fall. We spent four days in Champagne and focused our visits on learning more about sustainability in the region. Sustainability efforts tend to be adapted to regional or local conditions. Here are a few key programs in use in Champagne. The Comité Champagne coordinates the efforts of both growers and houses to focus the region’s efforts in sustainability, setting goals for the region and tracking progress.

The HVE stamp can be seen on wine bottles from certified wineries in France

Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE)
The Haute Valeur Environnementale program is available to all farmers in all of France, it isn’t specific to grape growing. It’s easy to understand and can be used whether the crop is grapes or cauliflower! The main benefits are paying attention to multiple aspects of the environment with a focus on continuous improvement. The main complaint is that even at the highest level, it doesn’t demand elimination of synthetic chemical use, just management. Certification at the highest level requires independent audit with annual review.

HVE covers four key areas:

  • biodiversity conservation – examples include woodlands, meadows, ponds on the property
  • plant protection strategy – examples include management of all synthetic products applied as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides
  • managed fertiliser use – controlling synthetic fertilizers while considering and encouraging compost, cover crops and legumes.
  • water resource management – limited to irrigation of the fields, not water usage in total
Additional efforts at sustainability and carbon footprint are located in the VDC

Viticulture Durable en Champagne (VDC)
The VDC program is complementary to the HVE program with requirements specific to growers and houses in Champagne. There are over 100 points which are measured and reviewed. The program is voluntary and every year more farms and houses are certified. Like the HVE program, there is an independent audit required for certification
Main tenets of VDC:

  • Control the use of inputs
  • Preserve and enhance the terroir, biodiversity and wine-growing landscapes
  • Responsible management of water, effluents, by-products and waste
  • Reduce energy dependence and the carbon footprint of the sector

Currently, 41% of the vineyard area in the Champagne region holds the HVE certification and 27% hold the VDC certification.

Organic certification applies to a wide variety of agricultural products including grapes and wine

Organic Viticulture and Production
Organic viticulture eliminates the use of synthetic chemicals entirely, growers are limited to products made by naturally occurring processes. It’s important to note organic growers still need to use chemical products, they are organic approved. Advantages are less reliance on synthetics. The main complaint on organic viticulture is the use of copper sulfate in the treatment of mildew. There are limits to how much copper an organic grower can use in a season, which became a huge challenge in Champagne in 2021 due to excessive summer rain. There are also a set of organic requirements in the winery for organic wine production. There is a 3 year transition in the winery, and Champagne production takes 2 years, so organic certification is a long path. Perhaps because of these challenges, only 5.8% of the Champagne appellation area is certified organic as of 2020.

The Demeter “flower” symbol is often seen on wine bottles

Biodynamic Viticulture and Production
Biodynamic procedures are built on top of a base of organic certification. At its’ heart, biodynamics is about viewing the farm as a closed system, requiring no inputs from outside. It integrates soil, plants, animals, humans and environment. The goal is regeneration of the environment, not just sustaining. Biodynamics originated early in the 20th century and there are aspects of the mystical and spiritual in the original writings which are still embraced by some practitioners. Biodynamic certification requires inspection and audit by one of the certification agencies such as Demeter or Biodyvin.

Sustainability Progress in Champagne. Graphic courtesy of Comité Champagne at http://www.champagne.com

Tracking Progress
The Champagne region started their focus on climate change back in 2003, and was the first wine growing region worldwide to complete a comprehensive carbon footprint assessment. Since then, they have been setting goals and tracking progress in all aspects of Champagne production and distribution. The program is promoted and coordinated by the Comité Champagne.

Disclosure: Comité Champagne sponsored our press visits for two days in the northern part of Champagne (Reims, Epernay). Later in the week, we set up independent visits in the Côte des Bar. We provided our own transportation to and from the region.

Our Champagne Visits
We visited 5 houses over our 4 days in the region, including a Grand Marque house as well as a variety of small and medium size grower producers. We focused our visits on wineries with a sustainability story to tell. Over the next few weeks, the individual visits will be featured and linked below.

Champagne Pommery
Champagne Pommery is one of the historic Grand Marque Houses. They have a history of embracing change, they were the 1st successful of Brut Champagne. Champagne Pommery is HVE certified and also VDC certified. They are running some test plots using organic protocols. Read about our visit here.

Champagne Vazart-Coquart
Jean-Pierre Vazart is a Grower-Producer in the Côte des Blancs. His vineyards are certified organic. Read about our visit here.

Champagne Moussé Fils
Champagne Moussé Fils is a small house in the Marne Valley. They use both their own grapes and grapes they contract. Their vineyards are certified organic. 2021 was a very difficult year for Moussé Fils. Read about our visit here.

Champagne Fleury
Champagne Fleury is located in the Côte des Bar in the southern part of the Champagne region. They are certified biodynamic (organic certification is a pre-requisite). They are known as one of the original champions of biodynamics in Champagne. Read about our visit here.

Champagne Drappier
Champagne Drappier is a medium size producer in the Côte des Bar. Their 62 hectares (ha, about 2.2 acres) are certified organic and they work 27 ha by horse. They are working on a wide range of sustainability measures. Future link to a post about our visit.

Resources for these articles
Excellent website full of articles on every aspect of Champagne by the The Grandes Marques and Maisons de Champagne
Details on Champagne regulations provided by the Champagne Growers
Comité Champagne has an excellent Champagne online course, the classic version is free!
Comité Champagne has a very nice website with lots of valuable information
Association of Organic Champagne website here
Good summary of biodynamics is here

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  1. […] at Champagne Pommery TodayThe first stop on our trip was Champagne Pommery. We met with Clément Pierlot, the cellarmaster of Champagne Pommery. […]

  2. […] third visit in our sustainability focused tour of Champagne led us into the Marne River Valley to visit Champagne Moussé Fils in the village of Cuisles. At […]



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