Champagne Terroir and Farming
Farming is diverse. I am a farmer (Highland Cattle), I have friends who are farmers and our champagne producers are also farmers. Like me, they nurture and grow their raw material (grapes), at the mercy of the elements and making best use of their natural resources.
Terroir helps explain the unique characteristic of wines due to the location (orinetation, soil, micro-climate, etc.) of the vineyards where the grapes grow; by unique I mean what makes, for example, chardonnay from ‘hill one’ so different to chardonnay from ‘hill two’. It is this individuality which is exacerbated in the production of champagne since there are so many elements to be blended together to make the perfect wine and maintain a house style.
Obvious question: how come many of us have a favourite champagne that we chose year after year, notwithstanding that the raw ingredients are so different from year to year depending on the weather and harvest?
Simple answer – the skill of the blender. The blending of non-vintage champagne allows the blender or oenologist the opportunity to create a “house style” for their champagne and to mostly replicate this year after year. Remember: non-vintage champagne is a blend of both vintages (years) and grapes.
Now if champagne was produced every year from that year’s harvest as happens for most other wines – in other words, if we had vintage champagne every year – then it would be much more difficult to have a “house style” as the vagaries of individual harvests would have such an impact on the end wine; the blender would not have the opportunity to use wines from previous years (up to 20 years in the case of Nomine) to recreate the bubbles of familiarity.
Every year’s harvest is unique and unique harvests give the ingredients for unique wines; in 2003 Bollinger grasped this opportunity and produced a fabulous but highly unusual vintage champagne which reflected the astonishing weather (and thus harvest) that year. Try some if you can find some – only a few thousand bottles were ever made.