Reims (France) (AFP)
Wine growers in the Champagne region, home to the most exclusive champagne in the world, on Thursday abolished a century-old rule governing the distance between vines, sparking fierce resistance from traditionalists.
Over the past 100 years, the maximum allowable distance between rows of vines has been 1.5 meters (five feet), which experts say represented the ideal balance between yield and quality.
Greater spacing, they said, would eliminate the need for vines to compete for water and nutrients with neighboring plants, a struggle that helps them produce smaller, better crop loads with just the right amount of water. good amount of acidity.
But the small space between rows and between each vineyard makes mechanization difficult because pruning, fertilizing or harvesting machines cannot easily navigate in tight spaces.
A 15-year study conducted by the association of producers SGV, scientists and champagne houses revealed that larger spaces would allow a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions thanks to more efficient wine-growing equipment and more efficient than the straddle tractors currently in use.
“The objective is to support the necessary agro-ecological transition by adapting the Champagne vines to climate change, while preserving the unique quality and quality of the Champagne vines, and the economic sustainability of the winegrowers”, declared Maxime Toubart. , president of SGV. .
– ‘End of DEBATE’ –
SGV’s board of directors voted on Thursday to allow a space of between 2 and 2.2 meters between each plant in the future, and allow them to grow up to a height of 2 meters against 1.2 to 1, 3 meter currently.
The study also found that tillage would become easier, as would pest control.
And if there would be room for fewer vines, increasing the production of each plant would fill the shortfall.
“The vines would become more resistant to drought and would need less additives,” said Vincent Legras, a winemaker who has been experimenting since 2007 with wider spaces between the vines and is favorable to change.
“For me, the debate is closed,” he said.
But local opponents say they expect inequalities between winegrowers to increase and fear for local traditions, grape quality and employment.
“Under the guise of environmental concerns, they are implementing a business plan to reduce costs,” said Patrick Leroy, boss of the far-left union CGT-Champagne. “These strategies will destroy jobs. “
# photo1 Up to a quarter of the sector’s 10,000 jobs could be lost, he said, adding that he feared a “programmed extinction” of the Champagne region’s unique production methods.
But Toubart of SGV said that each winegrower would be free to decide whether or not to use the new leeway and that the change would be slow anyway. “It will be a long transition, over one, two or three generations,” he said.
The spacing rule is one of the many strict criteria that producers must meet to stay in the exclusive club authorized to use the Champagne label.
In addition to using exclusively grapes from the region itself, they must also apply specific fruit pressing and fermentation methods.
The most prestigious sparkling wine in the world, champagne accounts for only 9% of global consumption of sparkling wines, but 33% of its value.
More than half of the 244 million bottles shipped each year are intended for buyers outside of France.
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