28. sep. 2009

Cooperatives changed the champagne world forever

The cooperative movement in Champagne has made winegrowers more independent than before. We elaborate our champagnes with a group of winegrowers from the same area. Like us, most of them own a few hectares of vineyards but most only run around half a hectare or less. When we join forces and grapes we can use equipments in a more efficient way and we can blend more wines with a final higher and more stable quality than from just one.

Most are based in the village of Vertus, others in neighbouring communes like Bergeres-les-Vertus and our own commune of Soulieres. In total grapes from 147 hectares are pressed and fermented into wines. This is enough to fill more than one million bottles of the standard size of 75 centilitres every year.

Our cooperative was founded in 1959. 30 years after it all began. The starting point of the movement was the great depression in 1929. Champagne sales dropped dramatically. The stocks of the champagne houses grew bigger, and the prices of grapes smaller. In the beginning of the 1930’es the grapes were so cheap that it was hardly worth it for the winegrowers to pick them up. At this stage some decided to press and ferment themselves rather than sell grapes at a loss. The wine and eventually the champagne could be sold.

The movement spread. Today 137 champagne cooperatives are supplied by 13.000 winegrowers. One fifth of these sell their own brand of champagne. Like us.

Today the services of our coop include the full chain of champagne making: Pressing, winemaking, bottle fermentation and aging with state-of-the-art equipment to fit all possible needs. On top, the knowledge of how the still wines and champagnes develop at different stages from young to mature and aged. Indispensable for the art of blending as the heart of champagne is the olfactory and gustatory memories of the winemakers.

Each year we work in this small committee of winegrowers who meet regularly in the autumn to taste and discuss the new still wines with the winemaker. We select those that will fit our needs in the required quantities for each future blend. The surplus is sold to several champagne houses. In February we progress and discuss – at times rather fiercely – the new possible blends. This is when the style of our champagnes is decided.

So far we can fit our own needs into the possibilities offered. Our grapes are present with those of the other coop growers in order to elaborate high quality blends and select the best plots for special champagnes.

Our ambition is to add pure Tange-Gérard plots to our current range of products when we have had the necessary time to evaluate the wines that can be elaborated with them. This is a process that will take a bit of time and it will later combine with sustainable winegrowing which is also part of our thinking.