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peterliem

France
2 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  10:42:20  Show profile
Hello all,

As some of you know, I live in Champagne, and have something more than a passing interest in the region and its wines. In response to the recent threads about terroir in Champagne, Iíll add my two cents here.

I suppose that first of all, I ought to say that I reject the argument that the method of producing champagne precludes the expression of terroir. It's really rather simple--all you have to do is taste different champagnes from different areas to see that it isnít true. The vineyards behind my house in the village of Dizy are capable of making some awfully good champagne from pure chardonnay, but all the winemaking in the world isn't ever going to make it taste like Le Mesnil.

The real issue, in fact, is that Champagne is largely a blended wine, which makes the idea of terroir in Champagne a complicated and controversial discussion. On the one hand, Champagne is composed of varied and diverse terroirs that are as complex as those of any other wine region. On the other, the terroirs of Champagne have historically been valued not as ends in themselves, but as components of a larger blend.

If you believe that expression of terroir is only valid if a wine comes from a single parcel, then you are likely to be disappointed in Champagne. Single-vineyard champagnes exist, but they are necessarily rare due to the way that champagne is produced, marketed and sold. I donít believe, in any case, that the expression of terroir is restricted only to single-parcel wines. The Hermitage of J.-L. Chave is sourced from seven different sites; Bartolo Mascarello insisted on blending his Barolo from Canubbi, San Lorenzo, Ruť and Rocche. I donít hear any complaints about lack of terroir in those cases.

Champagne has been a blended wine ever since it was invented 300 years ago. Itís tempting to impose a Burgundian paradigm on all the wines of the world (I for one certainly try), but in truth the wines of Champagne were never conceived in the same manner, and it has only been recently that there has been an interest in producing a more isolated expression of site. Itís been even more recent that the climate has allowed site-specific champagne to be commercially viable. In the past, only extraordinarily warm vineyards such as the Clos des Goisses could produce champagne worthy of being bottled separately; today, global warming has allowed for a little more flexibility. Remember that Champagne has historically been at the northernmost limit of viable viticulture (Think Chablis is cold? I live a two hoursí drive due north of Chablis), and one of the primary reasons for blending is to counter the natural variability of climate and its effects on the vine. The region has been getting warmer, which is good (for now), but disasters are not uncommonóin 2007, localized hailstorms destroyed nearly 50 percent of the crop in Mareuil-sur-Aˇ; in 2003, spring frosts were responsible for losses of up to 80 percent in the CŰte des Blancs.

Itís true that terroir in Champagne tends to be discussed in terms of village, rather than vineyard. This is not because distinctions within villages donít existóthey do, and everybody knows it. The clay slope of Avize produces very different wines than the chalky plain, and in Verzenay you can find vineyards with expositions in all four compass directions, which obviously has an impact on each wineís character. But often the only opportunity to taste such distinctions is in vins clairs, and you will rarely see these expressed in finished wines. This is largely due to scale of production and to variability in climate (see above). Is the distinction of village, however, somehow less valid than that of vineyard? After all, we still talk about the same things in Burgundy: Gevrey vs. Chambolle vs. Vosne, or Meursault vs. Puligny vs. Chassagne. Freddy Mugnierís village Chambolle is blended from two very different parcels a kilometer apart from each other (Combe díOrveau and Les Plantes), yet I happen to think that itís quite a compelling expression of Chambolle-Musigny. I donít find it invalidated because itís blended from two different terroirs within the village. By the same token, I donít find Gaston Chiquetís Blanc de Blancs díAˇ to be any less valid an expression of place just because itís blended from several different parcels. I enjoy seeing the distinctions of village in Champagne, and there are ample opportunities to do so.

Donít get me wrong--Iím as excited as anybody to taste single-vineyard champagnes. And in fact, there are more of them in production than you might think. You all know the big three (or at least I hope you do): Clos des Goisses, Clos du Moulin, Clos du Mesnil. I could name at least 30 or 35 others off of the top of my head, and there are more and more appearing all the time. Then there are also lots of other wines that arenít technically single-vineyard, but that come from nearby parcels on similar terroir. Bollinger Vieilles Vignes FranÁaises, for example, comes from two different parcels, but theyíre closer together than, say, the two ends of Musigny. Larmandier-Bernierís Terre de Vertus is from three adjacent lieux-dits on the same terroir, but if French bureaucracy had rolled the dice a slightly different way, they might have been included in a single one. (Think 1971 Germany. The vineyard of ‹rziger WŁrzgarten, after all, is spread over 53 hectares....) If itís isolated expression of terroir that you seek, thereís plenty of it in Champagne if you know where to look, and wines like these could keep you busy for quite a while.

Anyway, that was all rather long-winded, but those are some thoughts. Not proselytizing, just sharing.

Brad Kane

USA
1785 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  10:51:30  Show profile
Good to see you here, Peter. Hope the book is coming along well.

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Mjolnir

Faroe Islands
3152 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  11:05:19  Show profile  Visit Mjolnir's home page
Thanks very much, Peter. And I share the good wishes for your book.

Thor Iverson
oenoLogic - the blog & the site & the other blog
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Rube

USA
184 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  13:05:45  Show profile
quote:
But often the only opportunity to taste such distinctions is in vins clairs,

What is vins clairs?

RubeGo to top of page

Rieslingfan


426 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  13:12:00  Show profile
Thank you for your perspective Peter. Add one more set of good wishes for your book. I look forward to it.Go to top of page
Mjolnir

Faroe Islands
3152 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  13:49:58  Show profile  Visit Mjolnir's home page
quote:
What is vins clairs?

Vins clairs are the still wines that make up the blend, before they undergo secondary fermentation.

Thor Iverson
oenoLogic - the blog & the site & the other blog
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winegirl


252 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  13:51:11  Show profile  Visit winegirl's home page
Thank you, Peter, for this invaluable contribution.

What do you think, finally, of the growing number of parcellary champagnes? Treachery w/r/t traditional champagne style and making, or a brave new world?

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The Fish

Congo, Democratic Republic of
388 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  14:34:58  Show profile
Very nice post. Are you the peter liem that produced the mythical riesling report?Go to top of page
Brad Kane

USA
1785 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  16:57:19  Show profile
He is indeed, Jean.Go to top of page
CMM

USA
539 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  17:19:09  Show profile  Visit CMM's home page
quote:
Hello all,

As some of you know, I live in Champagne, and have something more than a passing interest in the region and its wines. In response to the recent threads about terroir in Champagne, Iíll add my two cents here...



An excellent post, thank you. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the character of Champagne from a more macro-perspective. There is a general character to most good Chablis that distinguishes it from other white Burgundy (e.g. the difference between a typical blended Chablis 1re cru and a typical Meursault or Macon is greater than the differences between the individual crus in Chablis, assuming the same vinification). I think the same is true in general for Champagne.

So what is your take on the extension of the Champagne appellation? Will it dilute the distinctiveness of Champagne? Even if the soils and microclimates and vinification are similar in the added vineyards?

What about English "champagne" - if the soil and exposure and vinification are similar, how close does it come to classic Champagne attributes?Go to top of page

SFJoe

USA
6192 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  17:37:53  Show profile  Visit SFJoe's home page
Hi, Peter, thanks for taking the time.Go to top of page
Jeff Grossman


1121 Posts
Posted - 04/06/2008 :  21:42:22  Show profile
Thank you for the additional insight.Go to top of page
FiloBianco

United Kingdom
28 Posts
Posted - 04/07/2008 :  08:22:40  Show profile
quote:
Hello all,
[...]
Bartolo Mascarello insisted on blending his Barolo from Canubbi, San Lorenzo, Ruť and Rocche. I donít hear any complaints about lack of terroir in those cases.

Peter,

being a Champagne nuts myself I could not put what you wrote in a better way. I do totally subscribe. Although you may want to rethink the reference to Bartolo. He made great wines certainly very true to the land and high in quality but rarely his Barolo comes on top in tastings or a matter of personal preferences. In blending he used to be the exception rather than the rule (if we are talking serious Barolo) all of the other great producers both modernists and traditionalists champion single vineyard from a long while: Giacosa, G. Conterno, Mascarello, Voerzio, A. Conterno, Cavallotto, Gaja, Brovia, Altare, Clerico. Over the year the impulse to develop single vineyard has been stronger than ever take Mascarello with his Ca d'Morisso or Barbaresco's cru (they will be stated on the label in every bottle) redesign.

Thanks for listening

FiloBiancoGo to top of page

peterliem

France
2 Posts
Posted - 04/07/2008 :  14:49:33  Show profile
Thanks, all.

winegirl:
I love the fact that parcellary champagnes are on the rise, and I don't see them as threatening the blended style at all. First of all, there aren't going to be all that many sites that are capable of producing top-quality, single-vineyard champagnes. Second, the small quantities involved mean that these things will always be in the minority. But what I like is that styles of champagne are becoming even more increasingly diverse. I don't want everything to taste the same. I want different wines to be as different as possible, and I like the fact that in Champagne you can buy a high-quality wine blended from around the region (yes, they do exist) and you can also buy a biodynamically-grown, single-parcel wine from a fanatically devoted grower. Celebrate diversity, I say.

CMM:
There is undoubtedly a macro-terroir of Champagne, which I guess I didn't talk about because I sort of take it for granted. Soil and climate are the primary factors, obviously. It's what makes Champagne different from any other sparkling wine in the world, whether it's from Spain, California or South Africa. It's an issue of character more than quality: there are indeed outstanding sparklers produced elsewhere, but they don't have the same character as champagne, nor should they. It's not just a matter of winemaking, either. I particularly like Gramona Cava, for example, and they age some of their sparklers for a very long time on the lees, but the wines are still distinctly different from champagne. England is an interesting subject. I haven't tasted widely enough yet to comment intelligently. There is certainly interest among Champagne producers in exploring the region.

As far as the expansion of the appellation, it's a complex issue, but basically I'm in favor of it. It's based on serious study, not just a need for more wine, and it's generated a greater understanding of terroir here. I think that one sign of how serious they are is that not only are 40 villages recommended for inclusion, but two are actually recommended for demotion. Also, the word expansion is a bit misleading. It makes it sound like they're increasing the size of the appellation, extending it towards Paris or Belgium, but really they're sort of filling in gaps inside the existing zone. I think that works.

FiloBianco:
I don't see that there's anything to rethink. Single-vineyard Barolo certainly has existed for a long time, and there has been an increasing movement towards more of it, but historically much of Barolo has been blended. My point is only that not all great, terroir-driven wines of the world come from a tiny micro-parcel of land -- terroir can be discussed in many degrees of detail.

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Hoke

USA
1225 Posts
Posted - 04/07/2008 :  15:11:38  Show profile
quote:
FiloBianco:
I don't see that there's anything to rethink. Single-vineyard Barolo certainly has existed for a long time, and there has been an increasing movement towards more of it, but historically much of Barolo has been blended. My point is only that not all great, terroir-driven wines of the world come from a tiny micro-parcel of land -- terroir can be discussed in many degrees of detail.

Peter: Thank you. An excellent point, and well stated. I think too often the terroir discussion spirals down to only the consideration of single vineyards or parcels as evocation of terroir, when it is the macro you mention that is, to me, somewhat more compelling.

In Barolo, for instance, I find it endlessly fascinating that the regulations established over the years determine not only the degree of slope but the location of the vineyard on the slope as a defining factor in the DOC; thus the aggregate rules serve to "define" the macro-terroir every bit as much as the climate/general soil conditions, etc. Which of course takes us back to the old argument (which I fought for many years) of the human element being as much an influence on "terroir" as the actual soil/climate itself.

Thank you for your thoughtful observations and statements. They are greatly appreciated.Go to top of page

vulgar little monkey

Iceland
2548 Posts
Posted - 04/11/2008 :  01:26:57  Show profile
Peter-

First of all, thanks for heeding my call to give us your take. I hope to see you soon and discuss this over some Clos de Goisses.

There are a few related things that I'd like to comment on, all part of a greater whole , I think.

quote:

I suppose that first of all, I ought to say that I reject the argument that the method of producing champagne precludes the expression of terroir. It's really rather simple--all you have to do is taste different champagnes from different areas to see that it isnít true.

I do see this as prima facie true, but it has been difficult for me to decide whether that is terroir, cepage (although separating the two is sometimes more complex than it seems, one might be a necessary condition for another, and non-recursive), or what have you. I was hoping for a more technical explanation of why the very method would not obscure terroir. At base, I am thinking not of sloppy dosage, we all agree on that, but rather the very secondary fermentation itself.

quote:

The Hermitage of J.-L. Chave is sourced from seven different sites; Bartolo Mascarello insisted on blending his Barolo from Canubbi, San Lorenzo, Ruť and Rocche. I donít hear any complaints about lack of terroir in those cases.

These are two interesting cases. I've been confused about Chave for a while, and have discussed this with Claude, here and in person, about what exactly the notion of terroir for Hermitage means and whether it exists in any kind of archetype. For a long time, I took Chave to be that archetype, but it occurred to me that we don't have too much to compare it to. I'm satisfied at this point that there are enough good Hermitage so that a common thread is apparent. It just doesn't have the delineation of Cornas, or Cote-Rotie where there are multiple producers producing great expressions of site over a long period.

Mascarello is even more interesting in a way, because the wine isn't even specific to a single village. I'd also say that VA plays a big part in the wine's expression and therefore, undercuts our ideas of terroir in the wines.

quote:

Itís tempting to impose a Burgundian paradigm on all the wines of the world (I for one certainly try), but in truth the wines of Champagne were never conceived in the same manner, and it has only been recently that there has been an interest in producing a more isolated expression of site.

...

Is the distinction of village, however, somehow less valid than that of vineyard? After all, we still talk about the same things in Burgundy: Gevrey vs. Chambolle vs. Vosne, or Meursault vs. Puligny vs. Chassagne.


Indeed, it is tempting and I do try to put a Burgundian paradigm on almost every wine I encounter. I think that this is an honest intellectual reaction. I think your villages level analogy is apt. If we can get past the secondary fermentation idea, then I think that I can accept the idea of terroir in Champagne at the villages level, with some notable exceptions.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.


Monkies have magical powers.Go to top of page

Brad Baker

USA
16 Posts
Posted - 04/11/2008 :  22:18:54  Show profile  Visit Brad Baker's home page
Peter,

Great post. I've enjoyed reading your blog for a while and am in basic agreement with you. I think it is pretty clear to anyone who drinks a good amount of Champagne outside of basic easy to find NV blends that terroir is present. It can be hard for some to get past the bubbles aspect, but other than that, I have never understood why some would not be able to grasp the terroir aspect.

It is true that many common NV blends, tend to cover up the terroir through blending, but to me this blending is what is so fascinating. As you taste the vins clairs, you understand that it takes the right combination of terroir and age (plus a few other things) to make a NV blend taste a certain way. With a great Champagne that is meant to express a vintage and vineyard/village, the winemaker's job is essentially not to screw things up (said half-jokingly), but with a NV blend, the winemaker must really work his magic to combine different ages, terroirs, dosage, and sometimes fermentation & storage practices to come up with a fairly consistent formula. It is almost like black magic!

Even among big house blends, terroir on a regional scale is easily seen. Ruinart's Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is very different from many Blanc de Blancs because the Chardonnay is from the Montagne de Reims and not the Cote des Blancs.

As you pointed out, within a village various expressions of terroir can be found. Take Bouzy - there is good land, average land, and poor land. The good land is big, rich, berry filled, slightly meaty, sometimes Volnay-like, adn just plain yummy. Yet, it all gets classified as Grand Cru and the grapes can fetch the same price whether good or bad. Even in a vineyard, there are different expressions of terroir. Clos des Goisses takes this to an extreme, but in many great vineyards, the individual blocks taste quite different from one another.

Again, great post. Cheers!

Brad Baker - Champagne WarriorGo to top of page

CMM

USA
539 Posts
Posted - 04/11/2008 :  23:05:27  Show profile  Visit CMM's home page
quote:
...It is almost like black magic!


wouldn't that be "Blanc magic"?Go to top of page
Brad Baker

USA
16 Posts
Posted - 04/11/2008 :  23:28:50  Show profile  Visit Brad Baker's home page
quote:
quote:
...It is almost like black magic!


wouldn't that be "Blanc magic"?

I stand corrected. Blanc magic it is.

Brad Baker - Champagne WarriorGo to top of page

vulgar little monkey

Iceland
2548 Posts
Posted - 04/12/2008 :  00:50:02  Show profile
quote:
quote:
quote:
...It is almost like black magic!


wouldn't that be "Blanc magic"?

I stand corrected. Blanc magic it is.

Brad Baker - Champagne Warrior


Any thoughts on secondary fermentation in bottle and terroir?

Monkies have magical powers.Go to top of page

Brad Baker

USA
16 Posts
Posted - 04/12/2008 :  10:41:12  Show profile  Visit Brad Baker's home page
I don't really see the secondary fermentation getting in the way of terroir any more than oak, or any other winemaking process would. When tasting still wines (of various ages and stored in various ways) and the finished products, you can pick up the same flavors/characteristics both before and after seondary fermentation. I've never looked at the first fermentation as taking away from terroir and I don't see the second fermentation doing it either.

I think you can make a case that extra flavors are imparted by the second fermentation, but if terroir was there before the second fermentation then I believe terroir it is still there after it.

Now, if you decided to ferment a wine dozens of times, eventually I could see you stripping it of everything.

Brad Baker - Champagne Warrior

Edited by - Brad Baker on 04/12/2008 10:42:29Go to top of page

vulgar little monkey

Iceland
2548 Posts
Posted - 08/29/2008 :  11:22:33  Show profile
winegirl might want to have this at the top.

http://vlm-tr.blogspot.com/Go to top of page

winegirl


252 Posts
Posted - 08/29/2008 :  12:22:23  Show profile  Visit winegirl's home page
How prescient of you.

All right, postscient.

But thanks! Any thoughts on, well...?

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