Cultivar improvement is one of the key factors in the quality of Champagne production. The early 20th century marked a departure from traditional planting practices that favour a wide mix of vines. Instead, new research sought to identify premium-quality cultivars.
Three grape varieties – the Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay – were found to offer the required qualities. These qualities are:
Generally speaking, every winegrower’s ideal is a robust, resistant vine producing fine, healthy grapes with exceptional taste characteristics.
Massal selection aims to achieve that ideal by selecting and propagating only those vines producing the finest grapes.
This method goes one stage further by focusing more closely on vine health, a process known as clonal selection.
So it was that researchers then planted thousands of samples taken from vineyards throughout the appellation area and monitored their development. Out of this came a list of healthy, quality grape varieties, based on the continuous scientific analysis of those experimental plantings.
Ever since the phylloxera epidemic (late 19th to early 20th Century), grapevine rootstocks have been obtained by the grafting of French on American vines. Selection depends on the compatibility of rootstock with the scion cultivar and local environmental conditions.
Decades of research into vine selection give today’s Champagne winegrowers the choice of some 50 or so clones of the three approved AOC varietals. Pre-multiplication is carried out by the Comité Champagne, which is also responsible for the distribution of approved scions.
Champagne is one of the only wine-growing regions to boast its own institute of applied research, which was originally founded by the AVC (Association Viticole Champenoise).
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