Champagne house celebrates injection of science

By Anthony Fletcher in Paris

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine

Champagne market leader Moet-Chandon demonstrated at FiE in Paris
how an industry constrained by limted ingredient supplies and an
incredibly tough regulatory environment can successfully innovate
to increase both quality and efficiency.

"Champagne is a known brand, and is perceived as being very traditional,"​ said Moet-Chandon's Benoit Gouez at a seminar on beverage innovation yesterday afternoon. "However, it has had to adapt to the rules of modern industry, both in terms of safety and traceability."

In addition, increasing competition, incredibly strict regulations and a limited supply of ingredients means that innovation thas become an important issue within the industry.

"Product innovation is rare in Champagne,"​ said Gouez. "In the '90s and early 21st century there has been more creativity, but still, we can only product a new product every two or three years."

It takes five years to create a vintage Champagne product. With only one harvest a year, the wine has to age for specified amounts of time in order for it to be properly classed.

What's more, supply is incredibly limited. Vineyards are strictly delimited, harvests are done by hand and pressing must be done in full bunches. The second fermentation must be done in the bottle, and aged for a minimum of three years to be calssified as a vintage.

"We only produce 28 per cent of our own grapes,"​ said Gouez. "We therefore have to buy from local suppliers, and supply is incredibly limited. Our choice is limited. There is very little pressure we can place on the suppliers."

It has therefore historically been difficult for the industry to adapt. As Gouez said with some understatement, the sector has to develop both vision and anticipation.

He believes that Moet-Chandon has made significant progress in this respect. "Our challenge has been to achieve consistency with inconsistent ingredients,"​ he told FoodNavigator​. "We have tied to create more premium blends with the same grape supply. As you know, we can't just buy better grapes.

"The idea is to always add more value."

Gouez says that because only wines with no defects enter premium blends, the important thing is to reduce the frequency and intensity of these defects. To better understand this, Moet has brought in science to complement decades of experience.

"It's about finding the molecules involved in these defects,"​ he said. "It also involves specific analysis such as for vegetal qualities etc."

After detailed analysis of the entire wine making process, Moet has introduced a number of changes. Bottles are no longer racked, tanks are filled faster and grapes are selected on whether they display rot or not. Champagne requires clean grapes rather than sugar-heavy fruit.

In addition, the company found that a yeast, F030, had lost its effectiveness and has since not used the ingredient in the production of Champagne.

The end result is that Moet is able to get the most out of a limited ingredient supply.

"2001 should have been the worst Champagne year on record, but we were able to identify the right grapes. And for 2003, I don't think that anyone will create a Champagne vintage - but we will be able to."

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