- In the old days before the world wars and phylloxera these northern villages were widely planted and highly esteemed. But as this was such a strategic point, one being able to look down to the city, this has been war zone many times during the history. Therefore the amount of vineyards has diminished from 105 to 45 hectares, says 27-year-old Alexandre Chartogne, the new generation of Chartognes.
From the first seconds of the visit I can see Alexandre Chartogne is a highly passionate vinegrower. He is working closely with his father Philippe and mother Elisabeth but already now one can see the enthusiasm and innovative spirits in him. He has worked for a while at Jacques Selosse in Avize, whose natural methods, biodynamic thinking and usage of barrels have clearly made an impact on Alexandre, too. And he has some fantastic experiments and projects going on.
- Here, like in every village in Champagne, there are both good and bad plots of land. To generalize, our wines are not as fruity as the wines from the southern part of the Montagne. However, ours are more powerful and complex due to the southern exposure and deep soils.
But what is extraordinary, are the non-grafted vines that still manage to survive in a few vineyards around here. The phylloxera vine louse spread around Europe in the late 19th century killing virtually every vine. The phylloxera is a bug that eats on the roots of the vine damaging them permanently and eventually killing the plant. The only founded cure was to graft all vines on American rootstocks that are naturally resistant to it. There are several regions as well as individual plots of land in the world that have resisted the louse. In Champagne Bollinger’s two vineyards that produce the prestigious Vieilles Vignes Françaises have been the only commonly known ones.
- We have one vineyard of 0,4 hectare in size growing 50-60 year-old non-grafted vines. Also, in the middle of a grafted plot, we have some 0,3 ha more non-grafted vines. It is the sandy and calcareous sandy soils here that are not phylloxera friendly.
Alexandre Chartogne is so sure of his soils resist to phylloxera that he even aims to plant some more non-grafted vines.
- I am very sure - 95 per cent sure – that we will get no trouble from phylloxera. I have just uprooted a vineyard and now I need to let it rest for a couple of years before I can replant it. I will plant 0,5 hectares with non-grafted vines. I will use partly the regular vinestock but partly I will play with provigneage - the layering method of cultivation.
Layering is practiced at Bollinger Vieilles Vignes, too. This ancient method consists of very dense planting – some 30.000 plants per hectare as opposed to 9.000 in regular vineyards. The vineyard is consistently rejuvenated by letting new vines be born from the canes of older vines. This method demands a lot of skill and effort. At Bollinger for instance there are 4 men solely responsible for the picturesque vineyards totaling 0,52 hectares.
- 0,5 hectares is the maximum I will plant now, as I don’t have the resources of Bollinger. It is just me treating the vineyard. But it is fascinating to see how these wines will be. The non-grafted vines are famous for producing wines with less alcohol for instance.