At the risk of sounding like a press release, an exciting new course on (and, even more temptingly, in) Champagne has just launched. Organised by the Avize Viti-Campus and harnessing the resources of the Université de Reims, the course lasts five days and reveals Champagne in unexpected levels of detail and candidness. What’s more, because the presenters are all full-time, experienced lecturers, the quality of teaching is extremely high – all of it in English, with an interpreter when necessary. Not all the course takes place in the classroom: visits are also arranged to a variety of houses and growers.
Called “Champagne Discovery”, the course kicks off with a run through of the history of the region with Ghislain de Montgolfier, famous for his roles as Chairman of Champagne Bollinger, Co-President of the CIVC (now referred to as the Comité Champagne) and Head of the Champagne Houses. Admitting that Christopher Merret was responsible for the first record of a bottle fermented sparkling wine, he covers the history with humour and a good feel for the key moments that have shaped Champagne as we know it today; he pays particular attention to the period between the late 19th century and the second world war, featuring phylloxera, riots, the loss of the big Russian market, fights over the Aube, adoption of Appellation Contrôlée and, finally, the creation of the CIVC.
The rest of Day 1 is spent looking at the research facilities of the Comité Champagne, both the laboratory and the vineyards. Research is a key part of the role of the Comité Champagne, with the results being disseminated both directly to the producers and also to the various teaching organisations. Cute though the baby Bucher presses and miniature stainless steel tanks look, it was the vineyard session at Plumecoq run by Olivier Garcia which impressed me most. Alongside his evident technical mastery of his subject, he communicated soil types, moisture retention and the methods they have developed to monitor vines’ health in a highly intelligible way. His explanation of the key balancing act between a vine’s transpiration and its daily water needs was the best I have heard. He also successfully linked this research to the key soil types of the area.
The second day started with another outstanding presentation, this time from Stephane Blanc, Oenology Lecturer at the Avize Viti-Campus and Chef de Cave for their own brand of Champagne, Sanger, which provides a convincing response to the sceptics who doubt whether terroir can really show through in a wine that goes through a second fermentation. Incidentally about 80% of those involved in grape growing and winemaking in Champagne study at Avize Viti-Campus, demonstrating its value to the region. I thought that I knew something about Champagne’s vinification. I was wrong. I have never heard such an articulate explanation of the pros and cons of different pressings, SO2 usage, different yeast strains, malolactic, fining, filtration and the like. Even better, Stephane was able to back up his various points with trial samples to taste. He could not cover all the 5,000 different compounds that he estimates have been identified in Champagne, but he made a good start.
After a light lunch with a grower on the Montagne de Reims, the afternoon session consisted of the first of two lectures on the economy of Champagne with Aurélie Ringeval Deluze of the Université of Reims. If I was surprised by her opening comment that Champagne accounts for 4% of France’s vineyard area but 33% of wine exports, that was only a taster for the astonishing level of detail that was to come. Her two lectures provide a thorough insight into the balance of power in the region, the transactions between growers, houses and cooperatives, the costs of producing a bottle of Champagne and a wealth of other information about production, export markets and the profitability of the region. Throughout the session, I had the feeling I was eavesdropping on something confidential………
The next four days continue in similar vein with further sessions on geology, the use of oak, the science of the second fermentation in bottle, the role of the broker, environmental initiatives and, of course, the marketing skills of the large houses. Visits included the traditional (Bollinger), the modern (Thiénot), top performers like Janisson and Dehours, the sparkling new cuverie of Moët & Chandon and the opportunity to spend time with modern luminaries like Anselme Selosse.
This course is much more than just an introduction to Champagne. It covers the technical and economic ground not normally covered in a typical visit to a Champagne house. It will be best enjoyed by those with decent existing knowledge and a thirst for more detail. It should appeal to those working in the marketing, sales or distribution of Champagne, especially brand managers either for the houses themselves or for importers and agents. It is also a natural for Masters of Wine looking for Champagne refreshment, MW and MS students and those looking to make the step up from WSET Level 4. And there is a wealth of material for journalists and wine educators.
For further information and future dates, contact the Directors at the Avize Viti-Campus
Jean-Luc Prost – firstname.lastname@example.org
Régis Thibert – email@example.com
or the course coordinator
Ronan Lieugard – firstname.lastname@example.org