Changes in weather patterns are momentarily improving the quality and taste of the world’s favourite party drink, but the future of Champagne grapes is not looking so bright.
At the stroke of midnight, millions of people around the world will be popping a bottle of golden bubbly – more specifically, Champagne.
It is the drink of choice during many celebratory moments such as birthdays, graduations, and weddings. But this fizzy delight’s days could be numbered by the planet’s most pressing issue: climate change.
Exclusively produced in France in a region of the same name – Champagne – the sparkling liquid acquires its bubbles naturally during two process of fermentation. That’s one more stage than traditional, still wines need.
To accomplish this natural fizz, yeast and sugar is added to the wine from Champagne grapes before it is capped. Inside the bottle, the yeast eats away at the sugar, producing carbon dioxide (bubbles) and alcohol, until there no sugar left and the yeast dies.
The yeast is then removed in a process called ‘riddling’. The bottles are placed on a rack for anywhere between 2 to 10 years and are turned one quarter every day, until the solid yeast rises to the top of the bottle and is discarded.
Riddling is a laborious process for Champagne houses that still prefer to do this without the help of machinery, so you can understand why some bottles of the golden liquid are so expensive.
But while humans have carried out this process unbothered for hundreds of years, climate change’s threat begins right at the root, during the grape’s growing stages.
Over the last three decades, temperatures in the region of Champagne have risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius, presenting warmer summer days and cool, crisp nights. Surprisingly, this has benefitted fragile Champagne grapes. In fact, producers have admitted it is actually making their product better.
But family owners of Champagne houses are careful about celebrating an improved crop at the hand of climate change. They are aware that further, inevitable changes to climate could quickly begin to have an opposite effect.
Current scientific models of climate change predict that extremely cold springs and hotter summers could become a reality in the French region in the near future, threatening the environment in which the grapes grow.
Colder nights mean the grapes would freeze overnight, altering their natural balance just before they are harvested. Hotter summers could bring prolonged drought and wildfires to the vineyards, like the one in 2019 which destroyed ten percent of the region’s crops.
Perish the thought that we’d have to resort to generic sparkling wine, a number of champagne houses are learning to become more sustainable, doing all they can to curb their own environmental impact.
This ranges from using pesticide-free growing techniques, reducing their carbon footprint during the storage and transporation of grapes, as well as the tractors which are used in harvest season.
It also includes embracing the rich biodiversity in the region, protecting the vines, insects, and birds whose presence balances out the health of the soil and surrounding ecosystem, of which there are 350 recorded species.
The sustainable development manager of the family-owned Champagne house Comité Champagne has set out on a mission to make the company carbon neutral by 2030, admitting that the eldest members of the business have been hesitant to ditch traditional pesticides and growing methods.
What’s positive is that even in the most long-standing industries, people continue searching for ways to preserve but improve their processes in the name of sustainability.
So when we’re ringing in the year 2050 with a flute of crisp Champagne in our hand, we’ll have these people to toast to. On that note, happy (almost) new year!
I’m Jessica (She/Her), a writer at Thred. I moved to London to complete a master’s degree in Media and Communications after spending two years working in fashion PR in Amsterdam. Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and drop me some ideas/feedback via email.
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