Recent chatter around grower produced and single vineyard Champagne is teasing intellectually vinous curiosities. I “think” most winemakers and growers in any wine region usher fruit from vine to barrel to bottle with the idea of producing pleasure inducing liquid. On a global basis, wine makers rely on vineyard or broader appellation specificity for reasons that span marketing advantages all the way to authentic presentation of terroir. The absence of education and awareness of this kind of specificity most certainly contributed to the death spiral of Australian wine exports. And in Burgundy, vineyard and grower specificity are inarguably inherent and integral to the region’s history and success. Yet in Champagne, centuries of wine making have sidestepped this specificity in favor of blending wines from different vineyards, villages, and vintages to achieve house styles and maximum pleasure quotients. And now, there is enough evidence of single vineyard Champagnes to call it a trend.
There was a really good Brooklynguy post about proliferating vineyard specific Champagne examples and trends that got me thinking about all this after participating in a blind tasting of more traditional non vineyard specific, luxury cuvees from major Champagne houses. After a little debate on this topic, I sent a link to the Brooklynguy post to my friend Brett Vankoski, whose palate and wine sensibility can never be trivialized. Brett, who also attended the recent blind tasting made some interesting points: “Good article, but it seems to me that single vineyard Champagne has many challenges:
- Because of the gentle pressing that occurs and the restrictions on yield, I suspect you would need a pretty large vineyard to produce a quantity of wine worth bottling under a single vineyard label. Is there really such a thing as terroir once a vineyard reaches a certain size?
- Champagne is sparkling because the still wine is dreadfully acidic. I question the use of terroir with Champagne when producers employ a production method to the wine. Let’s face it, most of what we tasted on Saturday had to do with the texture of the bubbles, the resting of the wine on the lees, and the age of the wine. These things have little to do with soil and actually serve to cover up a wine’s natural aromas.
- The assemblage, or blending of still wines, is an important part of why Champagne tastes like it does. The value in this is to smooth the rough edges of wine made from grapes that don’t often fully ripen.
- How do you deal with the NV issue when it comes to single vineyard champagnes? Should we care about a single vineyard champagne that is a blend of multiple vintages?
- I’m all for single vineyard wines as a means of expressing a sense of place, however when it comes to Champagne I am not so sure it would actually lead to a better end result. I think the ’83 Dom Perignon was a good example.”
Really strong points. I am not sure I agree with Brett’s gripe about vineyard size though. So many vineyard specific wines are capped by short yield and tiny production levels. And terroir, at least from my vantage point, can span pieces of vineyards, whole vineyards, appellations, states, countries, and continents. Syrah from Australia, by in large, is wholly different that Syrah from Cote Rotie. Is there a hectare ceiling for legitimate inference of terroir?
But, I tend to agree with Brett overall. Champagne is a drink of pleasure above all others, and a highly manufactured wine in comparison. And the fruit and geography has lead winemakers to use a broad array of tricks and recipes under one “Methode de Champenoise” to produce these delicious and satisfying wines. So, is there a compelling reason to shift towards vineyard specificity here? Will those wines deliver advantages that will drive acceptance by serious wine enthusiasts? Anyone that participated in our recent blind tasting would need to agree that the barrier to entry is set extremely high.