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Champagne: The Old Traditions Return

Fed up with soil that is both hard as concrete (from multi-ton tractors running through the vines year after year) and that possesses a microbial life comparable to the Sahara desert (in the famous words of Claude Bourguignon), better growers in Champagne have taken to plowing with the help of horses — in this case Babette and her handler, who are doing a hard day’s work near Cramant. Their labor breaks up the earth to allow air into it, and cuts surface shoots so that the vines are forced to send their roots deep into the land’s mineral-rich lower stata (sometimes as far as 50-60 feet):

All in all, plowing seems a better method of tending to the garden than 3-5-ton enjambeur tractors (literally “straddlers”) equipped with a Rube Goldberg array of plowing/spraying/cutting attachments that do their work far less well (though more cheaply) than human hands and horse-drawn plows:

Champagne Enjambeur.jpg

Vignerons (the French have no word for winemaker, they describe the activity as someone who tends vines — vignes) are gradually retreating from the chemical excesses of the last half-century that saw vines regularly doused with herbicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and even garbage from Paris, in favor of traditional, natural methods. Wines from healthy vineyards taste better, and methinks that they are better for you, too. (No headaches in the middle of the night, as we experience with most California wines.)

Addendum: As any good vigneron will tell you, the microbial life of soil is critical in allowing rock to be metabolized by micro-organisms. These in turn nourish the roots of vines, permitting the growth of grapes that can be made into wine possessing real terroir character.


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