|Morgane Fleury of Champagne Fleury, the oldest biodynamic grower in Champagne, |
at the San Francisco tasting organized by the Association des Champagnes Biologiques.
She also runs a wine shop in Paris, Ma Cave Fleury, carrying her family's wines.
Overall, the table wine producers from Languedoc-Roussillon and other regions are happy to put the Ecocert (organic certifier in France) logo on their bottles and exhibit at Millesieme Bio, but fine wine producers with certified organic vines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhone and elsewhere haven't been so enthusiastic about waving their organic flags. (The situation is the same here in the U.S. Substitute Mendocino for Languedoc-Roussillon for the table wines and Napa/Sonoma for the fine wines).
Now comes a vanguard--what a breath of fresh air--an organized, proud and effervescent gang of organic Champagne producers.
|Vincent Couche was the first Champagne grower and one of the first vintners in Champagne to become biodynamic|
No other organic fine wine producers have risen to the organic communications challenge, proudly declaring the benefits of organic and exhibiting as a group.
The Champenois do so amidst a region that uses the most pesticides on wine grapes in all of France. (The black regions in the map below show the highest use of pesticides. The black region in the upper right is Champagne.)
In their first American tour, the group of 15 producers from the Association des Champagnes Biologiques took over San Francisco's Cerf Club Tuesday for an intimate, informal trade tasting. Only two percent of the region's producers have certified organic vines (up from 0.5% in 2009), but they're ready to make noise about it. (There are a total of 63 producers in the region with certified organic vines. Roughly 1,400+ acres [out of a total of 83,000+] in Champagne are certified organic. Fewer still are certified biodynamic).
Though I only found out about the tasting at the last minute from a friend on Facebook who was in attendance, it was enough to make me drop everything and drive over the bridge for the last precious hour of the tasting.
No more having to go booth by booth and having to ask, "Are you organic?" as is standard protocol at most tasting events. (Though I often ask tasting organizers in advance which producers I might target who are organic, it is usually impossible to get a list of them.) No more smirks and stares, like why would being organic be important? And why would certification matter?
Here, to my profound amazement, I not only met many of the 15 organic producers but also more than a few Demeter certified biodynamic producers. Some of these producers have been organic since 1971 and biodynamic since 1989.
The natural wine magazine Glou Glou features an interview in its Champagne issue with Jean-Pierre Fleury, the first to go down the biodynamic path.
|From Glou Glou, Champagne issue, No. 1 (Sorry I wasn't able to find a link|
online to purchase the issue, or I would have posted it here).
Each producer had the little green leaf, the Ecocert label, on the back of the bottle.
Why Organic Matters
Glou Glou's coverage talked about growers' practices and why they are so important. It had a frank explanation about copper. (Headline: "Copper is a problem invented by industrial agriculture to undermine organic farming.") It had a timeline of the organic movement in Champagne. It had explanations about soil, and terroir, and root depth. Without the bullshit.
Why Excuses for Not Being Certified Are Just Excuses
There was a section called "The Gaslighting of Organics," detailing the typical excuses given by other wineries for not being organic.
They were all too familiar: "It's too expensive." (In the U.S. it ranges from $11-40 an acre, a little known fact. If you can't afford that, should you really be in the wine business?) Their answer: Ecocert certification fees are 800-1,500 euros a year. Which translates into costs of one to two cents per bottle.
How much time does certification take? Their answer: 3 hours a year maybe? But it's worth it because, "it gives our customers greater transparency."
For those who don't certify, they had these words: "In Champagne, there are lots of people who say they're organic, but not certified. Why? Because they're not organic," says Vincent Laval in Glou Glou.
Pascal Doquet echoes that observation, "Winemakers who say they farm organically but aren't certified are almost always liars, That is to say, they use chemicals in difficult years and they're organic 80-90 percent of the time." (I would say this applies to more than a few producers in the U.S., too). He continues, "I don't know a single winemaker in Champagne who actually farms organically in Champagne who is not certified. Anyone who is not certified continues to justify the existence of the chemical industry. For me, they're against organic farming."
And most damningly, in keeping with my own horror show responses to wine shops (including natural wine shops), Doquet describes his visit to New York wine sellers with Laval: "Everything there was labeled 'organic' or 'organic practicing' or 'organic non-certified.' Yet it was nothing but chemical farming."
Reports on farming practices provided by wine sales reps should be taken at face value.
"Anyone who's not certified can spray pesticides whenever they damn well please."
THE WINES SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
Although I only made it through about 5 to 6 producers' wares, the wines were uniformly fantastic and showed the nuances of terroir and subsoils. It's a pleasure to taste the terroir.
Retail prices were in line with other Champagne producers, with entry level bottles in the $35-50 tier and special bottles around $75 and up. Many also made a zero dosage or no sulfite Champagne as well.
|Georges Laval, certified organic since 1974|
|Georges Laval's boxes show where the wine is from, a lovely touch for those|
marketing wines of terroir
|Lucie Cheurlin of Champagne L & S Cheurlin|
|Dominique LeLarge-Pugeot and her husband |
Dominique are the seventh generation at the family
estate; they are also Demeter certified biodynamic.
To learn more about the producers, visit the association's excellent website or visit the 15 producers this weekend at Raw Wine in LA, where I imagine they will be quite a hit.