We are wrapping up our Champagne expert guide series with a third and final installment focused on viticulture and winemaking practices in Champagne. This guide, like the introductory and history guides, was written by Champagne authority Tom Stevenson. Read an excerpt of the new guide below, and find the full version in the expert guide section!
The wines of Champagne are defined not just by the region’s history, geography, and laws but also by its unique viticultural and winemaking practices. This guide follows Champagne production from the vineyard to the glass, diving into the specific farming practices, decisions made in the cellar, and biological processes that together result in one of the world’s great sparkling wines.
Achieving a vineyard that is balanced year after year to produce sparkling rather than still wine requires adhering to certain criteria. It is not practical to be dogmatic about how each grape variety should be grown in every location within such a large and varied region as Champagne. But it is true that a variety destined for Champagne production, when compared with the same variety grown in the same place for a still wine, generally requires the following in a classic vineyard:
An increase in:
Shoot densityLeaf layersNodes per shootLeaf area to fruit weightPruning weight per meter of canopyFruit produced per kilogram of prunings removed
A decrease in:
Canopy gapsCluster exposure
In Champagne, the space between vines within the same row can range between 0.9 meters and 1.5 meters (roughly 3 feet and 4.9 feet), while the distance between rows must not exceed 1.5 meters. The relatively wide-spaced minimum of 0.9 meters is determined by the space necessary to accommodate all obligatory methods of training and the number of fruiting buds required. There is also a maximum sum of spread—the summation of the distance between each vine and each row—of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). This is equivalent to, for example, 1 meter (3.3 feet) between vines and 1.5 meters between rows.