There is no more protectionist nation on Earth than France when it comes to protecting the names of its wine regions – Champagne being a prime example.
For decades, both the French government and independent French vintners have fought to limit the use of the word “Champagne” to bottles of wine that actually are produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France.
But now, the French are seeking to expand the boundaries of that region.
The French national appellations body is looking to add 40 new communes to the already vast Champagne region in order to cater to increased demand.
According to Decanter, 22 villages in the Marne department, 15 in the Aube, two in the Haute-Marne and one commune in the l’Aisne have been put forward as having suitable typicity of terroir to grow grapes to make Champagne.
The list of new villages was drawn up by a panel of experts appointed by the French appellations body, l’Institut national de la qualite et de l’origine. The INAO began a review of the Champagne classification two years ago at the request of the Syndicat generale des Vignerons.
The experts looked at all aspects of the local environment -including soil, subsoil, slopes and aspect – before producing their report.
“The object is clear – it is necessary to preserve the typicity of Champagne,” said Patrick le Brun, head of the main growers’ union in Champagne, the SGV.
A report, described by local INAO representative Eric Champion as “neutral and independent,” will be presented to the governing council of the SGV and, if accepted, will be passed to the national committee of the INAO in Paris.
If it is approved by the INAO, a public consultation will follow early next year.
Although new vineyards are unlikely to be planted before 2017, there are signs that demand will soon outstrip supply. Shipments of Champagne came to nearly 333 million bottles in the last year, compared to an average annual production over the past decade (1997-2006) of just under 330 million bottles.
In the short-term, it is hoped that raising the maximum grape yield per hectare could raise production as high as 430 million bottles. Producers believe yields can be increased that much without compromising quality.
The Champagne appellation currently has a production area of 35,208 hectares spread across 319 villages.