Last year we got to the crucial time for vineyard management; spring and early summer. Usually the vineyards of champagne would be abuzz with workers but 2020 was no ordinary year, Covid had struck and with travel restrictions, itinerant labour was unavailable. With this lack of man power at such a vital time, something unprecedented happened at Louis Roederer; the office staff and their families, from sales and export to the marketing and cellar teams volunteered to swap their suits for muddy wellies.
Alexis Deligny, Export Manager for the UK told us a little about the experience:
‘The atmosphere is one of genuine camaraderie, with a real philosophy of team spirit and happiness to help our colleagues. It is very interesting for us to see how our colleagues really work in the vineyards and to be part of it. We all realized how difficult it is and honestly it makes all of us very humble and filled with admiration.
We were put into teams of 8 people and we went to work in Bouleuse, an 11 ha vineyard known as “the nursery” for our new plants. We had three main tasks :
- Plant news vines from massal selection: Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon and his team selected some fragments of vines in the best parcels that we have (chardonnay and Pinot Noir). Once they have selected them, a nurseryman is in charge to graft the American wood (the rootstock : the lower part in the soil) to the vine we selected (which will be the upper part) so it can survive the phylloxera once it is planted in the soil. Our job was to plant those new vines from massal selection that will become in the future vines for Cristal Champagne. As you know, massal selection keeps the genetic diversity of very old and qualitative vines compared to clonal selection. Our team of 8 people planted around 3000 new vines plants from massal selection during two weeks - Excellent Video below!
- Plantation of wooden stick to protect the new vines : as we do not use herbicides and we are tilling the soils, we need to protect those new and fragile plants from the plough. Therefore, we had to plant one wooden stick on each side of the plant with a hammer.
- Installation of “chauferettes” (chimneys) : for the past three years, the vineyards of Bouleuse suffered from a lot of frosts and an important amount of plants were lost. Therefore, in order to protect as many plants as possible considered this will produce the new Cristal in the decades to come, it was decided for the first time to install those chimneys to prevent the flower from frost damage. We deployed around 100 of those chimneys which are non-polluting as it consumes only wood pellets.
Afterwards we are dispatched on the Vallée de la Marne vineyards (Aÿ, Cumières, Hautvillers etc…) to work on vines de-budding. The aim of this task is to remove some of the buds which are growing on a vine cane which will not produce any grapes. By removing those buds, we guide the flux of sap to concentrate on the buds that will produce grapes. Thanks to this work, grapes will be more concentrated and will develop more flavors.
Of course, all this work cannot be handled by any machines.’
Come rain or shine, the newly recruited team toiled to ensure that nothing would stand in the way of ensuring the extraordinary potential of the vintage that mother nature was offering was achieved. At the end of each day, backs were aching, hands and feet were blistered but there were smiles of satisfaction at a job well done.