Champagne Vines Are One Step Closer to Growing Further Apart

New spacing rules for grape growers are meant to reduce greenhouse emissions in the Champagne regions.

Vineyards in the French region of Champagne
Photo: Miguel Sotomayor / Getty Images

Few countries take their culinary traditions as seriously as France, and altering even seemingly small rules can be a drawn out process. To wit, this month, the country's National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO) has officially approved a change to Champagne's vineyard density rules — touted as a way to help the region fight climate change — confirming a decision voted on by the region's growers association all the way back in July 2021.

The Champagne region has specific regulations on the distance between vines, and currently, they cannot be planted more than 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) apart. However, for decades now, some growers have been pushing for "vignes semi-larges" — which translates to "semi-wide vines" and is abbreviated "VSL" — a plan that would allow vines to be as much as 2.2 meters (over 7 feet) apart. Proponents of VSL tout its potential climate benefits by making vineyards easier to maintain.

At the time of the vote, Maxime Toubart, president of growers association Syndicat General des Vignerons del la Champagne (SGV), claimed that lower density could reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as 20-percent by allowing the use of better equipment. "It will help us to achieve our objectives of zero herbicides, 50 percent less pesticides and 25 percent less carbon emissions by 2025," he was quoted as saying.

Based on those potential benefits, the SGV approved the measure, putting the proposal in the hands of the INAO. But before the measure could be formally approved, a two-month national opposition procedure had to be launched. And opposition did exist. A collective which dubbed itself NoVSL argued that decreased density and the potential for increased mechanization that came with it could decrease the quality of Champagne wines.

But according to Vitisphere, the INAO's national AOP wine committee dismissed these concerns, accepting the decision of the SGV and pointing towards research within the Champagne region dating as far back as 1995 showing that VSL's benefits outweighed any concerns about a loss in wine quality.

Either way, the new rules will only give vineyards the option to remove vines to decrease density. The NoVSL crowd can continue to keep their vines at the current density levels (or even denser level) if they choose.

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