Claude Giraud, the owner of Maison Henri Giraud Champagne, has launched an appeal to the big-name Champagne houses to use more local oak in the production of their wines.
‘There are no great wines without oak': Claude Giraud
Giraud was speaking at a tasting of his base wines to demonstrate the results of 20 years of research into the effects of soils and microclimates on oak used in barrel-making.
Giraud is the only Champagne house to use only barrels sourced locally, from the Argonne forest, which was once the source of almost all oak used in Champagne making.
‘There are no great wines without great oak,’ Giraud told the 200 tasters at the event, adding that only two estates in France were studying terroir of individual forests to this degree; themselves, and Chateau Latour in Bordeaux.
‘Latour is looking at terroir in Tronçais forest,’ Giraud added, ‘while we are working with Champagne’s traditional forest, Argonne. Until the 1950s there were over 180 barrel makers in this forest, but the last ones closed in the 1980s, as production of the big houses climbed, and most turned to stainless steel vats and abandoned their forests. This is the missing piece of the puzzle in the winemaking process.’
‘Forests have a terroir, like vines,’ Sebastien le Golvet, Giraud winemaker and operations director told Decanter.com. ‘Today many big houses use barrels, but they are from Burgundy or Bordeaux barrel makers, and are sourced without traceability or provenance. We work with the forestry commission, choose our plots, season them for three years, and then record the effect of each plot on our Pinot and Chardonnay, depending on vintage.
‘The subsoils have an extraordinary impact on the texture and structure of the wine. We want to get this type of information out to others. To have real traceability of the barrels can only help increase the reputation of Champagne.’
Susan Oh Kwon, Taiwanese importer for LeVin, based in New York, said, ‘it plays well to the idea of sustainability, keeping things local and authentic, and I can see that it has resonance with wine lovers.’
Marc-Antoine d’Aymery, a Champagne broker, was more circumspect. ‘The big houses will continue to concentrate on their brands and their image, but for smaller houses, this is smart differentiation.’
Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux