Sustainability in Sparkling Wine
The movement towards sustainable viticulture is gathering momentum across the world and nowhere more so than among the sparkling wine producers of Champagne, Great Britain and Italy.
The Champagne region has been committed to sustainable winegrowing practices since 2001 and aims to achieve 100% sustainability among producers by 2030, through grower assessed or certified sustainable vineyard practices, or organic winegrowing. The Comité Champagne introduced its own Viticulture Durable en Champagne (VDC) sustainability certification scheme in 2014. The VDC measures are adapted to the Champagne region and encompass biodiversity, water and waste management, protection of landscapes, preservation of terroir, and reduction of carbon emissions. They also guide Champagne growers and houses seeking the recognised environmental certification Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE). Comprising 123 points, the HVE programme is both demanding and thorough, covering soil and vineyard nutrition, maintenance of the soil, management of the vines, and waste management.
Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck own 85 hectares of sustainably grown vines across Champagne, all of which are both VDC and HVE certified. Both houses are working with their grower-partners to assist them in achieving the same accreditations. Native flora is being planted around the vineyards to encourage biodiversity and there are beehives in their Courmas vineyard to aid with pollination. Cover crops grow between the rows of vines, which absorb water and lead to less susceptibility to botrytis in the grapes. ‘Confusion sexuelle’ pheromone-emitting capsules remove the need for insecticides against the destructive grape moth, the larvae of which attack the grapes and leave them open to rot. Piper-Heidsieck also use a solar-powered, autonomous tractor for vineyard work, which not only reduces diesel emissions but also frees up the team to focus on more intricate tasks.
Charles Heidsieck, Brut Réserve NV
This rich, complex and beautifully textured NV champagne is the result not only of superb quality fruit, but of skilful blending. An unusually high proportion of reserve wines are added; currently 42%. These reserves, stored in large stainless steel tanks, comprise Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in equal volumes and have an average age of 10 years. The oldest reserve wine in the Brut Réserve is currently 1996 Chardonnay from the grand cru of Cramant. It is these reserves, along with perfectly ripe fruit and long lees ageing, that give Charles its much-loved richness, complexity, and generosity.
Piper-Heidsieck, Essentiel Cuvée Réservée Extra Brut NV
The Piper-Heidsieck champagnes are renowned for their quality, elegance and generosity of style. They always shine at the annual wine competitions and the Essentiel Cuvée Réservée Extra Brut is no exception, winning the Non-Vintage Classic Blend Champagne Trophy at last year’s International Wine Challenge. Made in limited quantities and aged on lees for at least four years before disgorgement, this low dosage (6 g/l) champagne displays crisp citrus and apple aromas, with a rich fruit cake and nutty character on the palate. Perfect for sipping on its own or served with seafood.
WineGB launched its Sustainable Wines of Great Britain (SWGB) certification scheme in July this year, in recognition of the growing wine industry’s environmental responsibility from vineyard to bottle. It sets best practice guidelines and minimum standards, as well as lists prohibited practices, in the areas of soil health, vine management, environment conservation, promotion of biodiversity, minimal usage of pesticides and fertilisers, sustainable water use, protection from waterway contamination, improvements in winery design and wine packaging, increased energy efficiency, and the reduction in carbon footprints per hectare and per bottle of wine.
Nyetimber in Sussex is among the 30 SWGB founding members (together accounting for around 40% of the UK’s vineyards) and one of the first 12 producers to achieve certification in August 2020. Nyetimber will be permitted to include the SWGB certification mark on their labels from the 2020 vintage. They will conduct an annual self-evaluation, which is reviewed every three years by an independent environmental consultancy.
Nyetimber is committed to a sustainable and holistic approach to their land and resources. Around 30% of their estate is natural hedgerows, woodland, gardens, ponds and meadows – home to native flora and fauna - and they use sheep from a neighbouring farm to graze some vineyard locations in winter, reducing soil compaction and carbon emissions. They have a minimal intervention approach in the vineyard: composting pruning waste and pressed grape skins for natural fertiliser, using natural pesticides and herbicides wherever possible, using analysis software to limit spraying against disease, and drones to monitor vine health row-by-row. Rainwater is collected for use in the winery and a heat-exchanger allows energy to be recycled, while a 10% reduction in bottle weight since 2008 has significantly decreased fuel consumption and emissions.
Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée Multi Vintage NV
The Classic Cuvée is made with grapes from Nyetimber’s own vineyards in Sussex, Hampshire and Kent. The still wines are blended with 30% reserve wines, which average four years old, and are then aged for 36 months on lees. The result is complex aromas of honey, almond and pastry, alongside rich apple compote and citrus notes.
Stopham Vineyard in Sussex holds sustainability at the very core of their production. They employ a vast array of practices to ensure their impact on the environment is minimised. The site is rarely ploughed, which avoids soil compaction and allows grass to cover the vineyard, reducing run-off and erosion. Manure from the estate’s cattle is used to improve soil structure and nutrient retention. They avoid routine pesticide spraying, and only use fungicide if weather conditions or disease demand it. Finally, in 2010, an additional 400 metres of hedgerow were planted, which now, along with the arboretum next to the vineyard, provide much needed habitats for the surrounding wildlife.
Stopham Estate, Brut 2017
Simon Woodhead's excellent 'Brut' sparkling wine is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, which spends 30 months on fine lees prior to disgorgement. It displays a delicate, honeyed brioche character, enlivened by zesty acidity and layers of citrus, while the finish is refreshing and moreish.
There has been a recent focus on sustainability in Franciacorta, which has resulted in an impressive reduction in CO2 emissions. This DOCG zone is acutely aware of the importance of protecting the natural environment and organic practices are increasingly used in vineyards, as well as natural cooling systems, waste water recycling, and generating energy by solar panels.
Bellavista practises 'lotta integrata' in the vineyard, a minimal intervention and sustainable approach that seeks to create a balanced ecosystem by, for example, significantly decreasing the use of pesticides, using only sulphur and copper against mildew, and planting complementary herbs to both fertilise the soil and improve its structure and water retention, thus reducing erosion caused by heavy rainfall. Bellavista continually work the soil to aerate it and manage the vine canopy by trimming the top leaves, while leaving those around the bunches to grow to protect the skins from sunburn and ensure a slower, more balanced phenolic ripening.
Bellavista, `Alma` Franciacorta Gran Cuvée Brut NV
The 'Alma' Gran Cuvée is made with the attention to detail and quality which is typical of Bellavista. More than one hundred plots are picked and vinified separately for the base wine, with some vinified and aged in barrique. The wine undergoes a second fermentation in bottle followed by two and half years ageing on the lees before disgorgement. This wine is elegant and round, with perfumes of white flowers and stone fruits, and subtle hints of vanilla.
Main image: Nyetimber