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The Hidden Costs of Champagne

Drill down into our blog archive and tasting notes and you’ll find that Champagne is rarely far from the tip of our tongue. And why not? Champagne is the ultimate wine for all seasons and occasions and few of us, if cast away on Desert Island Discs with nothing but a wine cellar as our luxury (as Jancis Robinson famously requested when it was her turn to be a castaway), would pass up the chance to stock it with Champagne to keep us liquid company when we need consolation, exhilaration or, to mangle Lily Bollinger’s famous dictum, just something good to drink.

In case you think I’m about to wax lyrical yet again in the light of our forthcoming Ultimate Champagne Prestige Cuvée evening, I am, but only to mention en passant that in Salon, Charles Heidsieck, Bollinger, Billecart-Salmon and AR Lenoble, we have the best line-up of ab fab Champagnes ever since we’ve been running these successful pre-Christmas treat soirées. And if you haven’t yet signed up for our special evening at the swanky Lansdowne Club on 6 December, please do so before it’s too late, because numbers are limited and becoming more so by the hour:


More to the point, my mission here serves as a reminder that while Champagne is the sine qua non of luxury, prestige and celebration, it’s also a region of 16,000 growers and 300 houses that haven’t got where they are today by not being the most organised group in the world of wine. And, in their organisation, by taking their responsibilities as seriously as they bank their profits. The inclusion of the Champagne Slopes, Houses and Cellars on UNESCO’s World Heritage List has reinforced the idea of passing on its heritage, but the reality of climate change has posed a new challenge of responsibility towards the environment.

I was reminded of this when a deathlesss press release arrived in my inbox, suggesting that I unthinkingly publish the usual recycled bumf about Champagne doing something for the environment. ‘Champagne Trial the First Oil-Free Translatlantic Cargo Route’, it shouted. Eyes were about to do their glazing over thing as a natural reaction to most PR-driven drivel, but I willed myself to read on. ‘Avontuur set from La Rochelle on 6 August 2017 and is due to reach Montreal, Canada, today (9 October)’. And so?

And so the Comité Champagne had teamed up with a Canadian logistics firm to include a cargo of Champagne. Why? Because it was a trial opening up the possibility of ‘green sea transportation’ (love the ‘green’) between North America and Europe and could become the first oil-free transatlantic trade route. So ‘this unique opportunity will test a more environmentally-friendly mode of transport for Champagne’s exports beyond Europe’. Obviously the cynical journalist inside me (no really, there is one there) at first thought that this was just another piece of marketing designed to catch the eye.

But rather than just go into print and parrot the PR release, I thought it was worth actually looking into what Champagne is actively doing to meet the challenge of climate change and if it was putting its money where its mouth is. In brief then, the region does have a strategy to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 per cent by 2020 and by 75 per cent by 2050. In that objective, it has reduced the carbon footprint generated by each bottle of Champagne by 15 per cent since 2000, achieved 25 per cent of production certified as ISO 14001(voluntary system for an organisation wanting to improve its environmental performance), reduced chemicals and nitrogen fertilisers in the vineyard by 50 per cent, recycled 90 per cent of industrial waste, and treated and re-used all winery waste water.

Champagne packaging is a major source of CO2 emissions, accounting for one-third of Champagne’s emissions. In that, the region has cut the weight of the bottle by seven per cent, which, it claims is the equivalent of taking 4000 cars off the road. At the same time, the region has established an ecology programme to use the 120,000 tones of vine wood created each year in a more environmentally friendly way. e.g.  grinding 75 per cent into the soils to enrich it with humus. It has also cut the region’s water, biodiversity and carbon footprints to reduce the overall negative impact on the environment.

The Champagne region has pledged to make viticulture fully sustainable, and today that target still seems somewhat distant with only 11% of the total vineyard, some 3,800 hectares, currently certified as sustainable under the Minister of Agriculture programme. Overall though, it’s fair to say that the region is serious about taking positive steps in the direction of limiting the environmental impact of Champagne production. Indeed there are plenty of wine regions around the world that could take a green leaf or two out of Champagne’s commitment to more energy-efficient wine-growing.