Get Ready for Some ‘New’ Grapes from Champagne

Pinot Noir.

Chardonnay.

And, to a much lesser degree, Pinot Meunier.

Those are the three grape varieties used to make Champagne. That is, “real” Champagne, as in sparkling wine made in the Champagne appellation of France.

Four other varieties also are allowed: Fromenteau, Pinot Blanc, Petite Meslier and Petite Arbanne — but they represent less than 1% of the vineyard acreage.

After experiencing its earliest harvest on record this year, even skeptical grape growers and winemakers in Champagne are coming to the realization that climate change is forcing their hand. As part of France’s varietal creation program known as “ResDur,” an attempt is being made to create new grape varieties that are more resistant to each region’s climatic conditions.

It’s a big deal in France, where specific varieties have been tied to specific regions for generations. It’s not such a big deal in America, where hybrid grapes are common — especially in regions that experience the “four seasons.”

In New York’s Finger Lakes region, for example, you’ll find well-known varietals such as Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But you’ll also encounter Blaufrankisch, Seyval Blanc and Catawba.

In Wisconsin, which is better known for beer than wine, among the varietals you’ll encounter are Frontenac, Marechal Foch and — like in the Finger Lakes — Seyval Blanc.

The bottom line is that great wines can’t be made without great, perfectly ripened grapes. And each grape variety has its own environmental preferences. So as certain regions warm up, they’re going to need to embrace varietals that fare better in such climes.

In Champagne, the growers are about two-thirds of the way through the “ResDur” process. About five years remain before we may start seeing new varieties created for the appellation.

It’s simply a necessary step to keep the appellation viable for wine-drinking generations to come.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment

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