Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Part V -- The Vineyards: The definitive comparison of Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava

This is the fifth installment in a series designed to compare the attributes and merits of four of the world's leading sparkling wines. This post examines the overarching industry structure for each of tjhe subject wines, the grape varieties utilized in the winemaking, and the vineyard pruning systems utilized.

Industry Structure

The overarching industry structure in Champagne differs significantly from the Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava structures.  Champagne has a multi-layered, multi-responsibility structure while the structures in the other areas are a little more streamlined. The Champagne industry has 15,000 growers (an average of 2 ha per grower), and150 cooperatives, and 300 Champagne Houses.  Growers own 90% of the vineyards but sell most of their production to Champagne Houses.  The Champagne Houses own 10% of the vineyards but account for 69% of Champagne shipments ( Rather than grower-negociant interaction (as is common in Burgundy, for example), the growers sell their grapes to a Cooperative which crushes them and create communal and varietal blends which are delivered to the Champagne Houses (This approach creates two problems.  First, the separation of the grower from the negociant has implications for quality.  The grower knows that his/her grapes will be incorporated into a communal blend anyway so there is no incentive to make an extra effort to ensure that the grapes are breaking any quality barriers.  Second, no vineyard characteristics will be evident in the final blend.). The Champagne House blends, ages, and markets the company offerings.

All of the sparkling wine produced in Franciacorta is estate grown by its 104 producers while there are 165 base wine producers and 254 cuvee producers in the Cava DO. This inequality between the base wine and cuvee producers informs that a number of Cava producers procure value-added base wines as raw material for production of their wines.

Grape Varieties

The dominant grapes used in Champagne are Pinot Noir (35% of region's plantings), Chardonnay (25%), and Pinot Meunier (40%).  After many years of testing, these grapes have been shown to best provide the needed inputs for quality Champagne: (i) a good balance of sugar and acid; (ii) rich, subtle taste, and (iii) an affinity for bubbles.  In addition to these three, Champagne can also include Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Arbane.  These are rarely used and only in small quantities.  Yields in Champagne range between 13 and 15 tons/ha.

The approved varieties under the Franciacorta DOCG classification are Chardonnay (80%), Pinot Noir (15%), and Pinot Bianco (5%) grapes. Yields are approximately 9.8 tons/ha.

Prosecco is primarily made from the Glera (formerly Prosecco; also known as Prosecco Bianco and Proseko Sciprina) grape variety, a native of northeast Italy which has been used to produce wines since Roman times. In addition to Glera, Prosecco wines can contain as much as 15% of other grape varieties.  The most oft-used supplements are Verdiso, Branchetta, Perera, Glera Lunga, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay. Allowed yields for the various Prosecco zones are as follows: DOC -- 20 tons/ha; DOCG -- 13.5 tons/ha; Rive -- 14.3 tons/ha; and Cartizze -- 12 tons/ha.

The prime varieties used in Cava are Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parelleda but small amounts of Chardonnay, Malvasia, Pinot Noir, Trepat, Red Grenache, or Monastrell can be used in the blend. Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada are grown in both Baix and Central Penedès but the highest-quality Parellada grapes are grown in Penedès Superior.

Pruning Systems

A wide variety of pruning systems have been deployed in the subject vineyards. The allowed vineyard pruning methods specified in the Champagne AOC requirements are Cordon de Royal, Taille Chablis, Guyot, and Valle de Marne.

Franciacorta has three primary pruning systems tied to the phases of vine plantings in the region.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the first vines were planted in a wide-spaced format with densities of 1500 - 2500 vines per ha.  These vines were trained high with espalier or modified pergola systems.  During the 1970s and 80s vines were planted with wide spacing to support mechanization and the training system used was the Miotto style, a modification of the Casarsa style.  In the 1990s and onward the philosophy changed to higher-density planting (4 - 5000 vines/ha) on low-vigor rootstock.  The vine training system employed within that period was the Guyot Cordon system.

Prosecco pruning systems include Double Royat, Guyot, Sorellas Bronca, and Sylvoz while the Cava DO employs Double Guyot, Cordon Royat, and Gobelet, among others.


To view earlier posts in the series, please click below.

Part I -- Origins
Part II -- Regulatory histories
Part III -- Macro-Level characteristics
Part IV -- Production zones

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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