It’s a conversation that arises regularly in the wine world — are sustainable wines worth it? The answer emerges from the priorities of the drinker: taste, values, inspiration, budget, regional preference. Many consumers say that yes, purchasing a wine of ecologically conscious provenance is meaningful.
But there is a two-way street here, one that accommodates the ability of the producer to thrive (ecologically and economically) while the consumer realizes a selection of wines that meet their standards.
While some sustainable wines wear a label indicating a recognizable certification of some practice, others don’t — how a winery runs the shop isn’t always neatly displayed. It helps to know your winemaker to really catch a whiff of efforts in the vineyard and cellar. In the case of Champagne Palmer & Co, a peek at a new facility in Bezannes, France demonstrates the modern priorities of this 70+-year-old house, which was originally established by seven growers with shared goals of “harmony, balance and the pursuit of excellence.”
The HQE (High Environmental Quality) certified winery, which is located within a stone’s throw from Palmer’s Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Montagne de Reims, has the capacity for 2.1 million liters. A gravity flow system follows the natural slope of the land, LED lighting softens energy use, bioclimatic design synthesizes with natural light and water is ushered through plant roots in an innovative purification system.
U.S. consumers now find Champagne Palmer on more shop shelves thanks to entry into Constellation’s luxury wine division last year, Tru Estates and Vineyards. Here we take a closer look at the new facility and the Palmer style with Rémi Vervier, managing director of Champagne Palmer & Co.
Jill Barth: Is bioclimatic orientation common in wineries these days, or did the inspiration come from another industry, or is it a new concept?
Remi Vervier: An AOC with a worldwide reputation has a duty to pursue environmentally-friendly wine production. Always significant, this concern has become even more of a priority for Palmer & Co over the past 15 years, driving an approach towards more sustainable vineyard practices. The bioclimatic architectural design is based on the local climate and the lay of the land. Even if it’s not common in wineries, it was a natural choice for us. We are very lucky to implement this concept and maximize natural shelter, warmth, light and ventilation while reducing energy consumption.
JB: Gravity flow is an ancient technique in wineries, but recent updates with today’s technology make it so very forward-thinking. Can you speak to how gravity flow works in the modern winery?
RV: We utilize the hillside for the gravity flow. Thanks to this concept, we do not use pumps to transfer the wine from the tank. This is a gentle method that helps preserve the delicate and subtle aromas and flavors of our wines.
JB: Please describe how water is purified by plant roots in your winery. Fascinating!
RV: It is an eco-system that uses a natural filtering principle to recycle and regenerate the standing wastewater. Essentially, the water is channeled into a basin containing a collection of plants that purifies it.
JB: Biodiversity of the vineyard is so important. Wildflowers are planted near the new winery — do your growers encourage biodiversity around their vineyards?
RV: We work in close harmony with our natural environment to ensure that we preserve its biodiversity and the quality of the soil. Therefore, we follow an exhaustive and demanding action plan that encourages biodiversity via the region’s Sustainable Viticulture Certification. (This is a certification that the region has had since 2001 via the Comité Interprofessionnel des Vins de Champagne – Palmer & Co is in the process of receiving this certification.)
For example, we have adopted new guidelines aimed at promoting hedgerow planting on the vineyard slopes. We use local species that have already adapted to our soil and climate (Hawthorn, Blackcurrant, apple, pear, Beech, European hornbeam, Forsythia, Dogwood, Dog rose, Hazel, Goldenrain, etc.). These species help the establish an auxiliary reservoir. Planting is generally done in Autumn with flowering in Spring. In addition, on the slopes of the vineyards, we installed insect hotels to provide shelter for insects.
JB: Does Champagne Palmer & Co ever use oak in winemaking?
RV: Our wines are vinified in stainless steel vats to maintain freshness and elegance; however, we do use oak in a smaller proportion to create our solera. There is a 40-year old solera of pinot noir that we use in the Palmer & Co Rosé Réserve blend and a white wine solera that is used as a “spice” in other cuvées of the Palmer range.
JB: Extended aging on lees is a fixture of the Champagne Palmer & Co style. Can you describe to readers how this appears in the glass?
RV: With extended aging on the less, the expression offers a rounder, fleshier range of flavors: soft yellow fruits, nuts and dried fruits, cooked fruits, patisserie, brioche and pastry notes. During this time on lees, the wine will develop tertiary aromas of ripe fruits, candied fruit, forest floor, roasted coffee, toast, tobacco, and honey. At Palmer & Co, the time our wines spend aging on lees is considerably longer than the average in Champagne: four years for Palmer Brut Réserve, six to eight years for our vintage cuvées and up to ten years or more for our magnums and larger format bottles.
Interested in experiencing the Champagne Palmer & Co winery? It’s mainly open to trade exclusively, but guests staying at Palmer property Le Domaine du Chalet may a visit to the Champagne Palmer & Co cellars. The following Palmer & Co. Champagnes are currently available in the U.S. market: Brut Réserve NV (SRP $60), Rosé Réserve NV (SRP $80), Blanc de Blancs NV (SRP $90), Vintage 2009 (SRP $125), and the soon-to-be-released, Vintage 2012.
This interview has been edited for clarity.