Home News El Dorado in making as Champagne-growing area extended

El Dorado in making as Champagne-growing area extended

Published on 03/03/2008

   REIMS, France, March 3, 2008 - As champagne sales pop all-time recordhighs and demand outstrips supply, France's wine-making czars are to issue anhistoric ruling to extend the champagne-growing area, a move that will pournew wealth into 40 small rural villages.   Like other French wines, Champagne-labelled bottles are produced only fromgrapes nurtured in a specially-designated region -- in this case 33,500hectares of land mapped out almost a century back.   But with production of the bubbly at a maximum 400 million bottles a year,grape prices are exploding and the value of a hectare of vineyard has hitalmost a million euros.   As sales rise constantly, climbing 5.3 percent in 2007 to 338 millionbottles, the potential new winners of the prestigious label are waitingbreathlessly for a re-drawn champagne map to be issued March 13 by the bodythat rules over wine, the INAO or Institut National de l'Origine et de laQualite.   "If your vines fall on the wrong side of the divide, they will be worth5,000 euros a hectare," said Gilles Flutet who is in charge of demarcation atINAO. "On the other side they will be worth a million euros."   The current champagne region -- which like other wine regions is known asan AOC or "appellation d'origine controlee" -- was set out in stone in 1927legislation and enhanced by technical guidelines laid down by INAO in 1984. Itencompasses 317 village communes spread over four areas growing theChardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes used to ferment the bubbly.   For some of these communes, it was a long battle to be classified as partof one of the world's most profitable wine-making regions.   "We made several bids in the 1960s but were always turned down," saidGerard Poix, mayor of Champfleury, near the city of Reims.   In 1927, his commune opted to remain outside the area designated to makechampagne "because it was expensive to make and didn't make money." But whenthe fizz became one of the country's top sucess stories, many once-reluctantcommunes tried to turn back.   "In 1989 we put in a very detailed plea including an analysis of the soilpaid for by local farmers and a list of the plots proving that vineyardsexisted there in 1900," he added.   Other communes on the other hand did not expect to be put on the list drawnup by INAO experts on the basis of elements such as the existence or not of awine-making tradition, as well as soil and weather and other nature-basedcriteria.   "I found out in the paper," said Christian Degrippes, the mayor of Courcy,north of Reims, which is primarily a cereal-growing area.   Even the head of the SGV wine-makers union, which because of growingcomplaints had asked for an update of the AOC in 2003, expressed surprise thatas many as 40 communes were to be added.   "But that proves the experts did their job well," said Patrick Le Brun.   Back in 1995 already, and after a 13-year legal battle, the commune ofFontaine-sur-Ay, located close to several of the best champagne-growingslopes, had obtained a ruling from France's highest court enabling it to plant30 hectares of AOC vines.   That commune, where the price of land has leapt from 2,800 to one millioneuros a hectare, has now completed its third harvest.   "We now have to wait for the authorities to define the plots," saidDegrippes, who believes only one of seven growers in his commune will beauthorised to plant champagne-making grapes.   Once the new geographical champagne-growing region becomes official, thoseleft out will be able to file for redress on the basis of the criteriarubber-stamped by the authorities.   A final plan will then be submitted to the top administrative French court,the Council of State, and become official by decree in 2009.   But tipplers will have to wait another decade before the extension of theChampagne region affects production.